Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

joanne_doorsDoors is a brand-new time travel romance from Joanne Renaud, author of A Question of Time (which I also reviewed), out now from Champagne Books.

So, first, a disclaimer: Joanne’s a good buddy of mine, and I got to be a beta reader for this book, so even though I will try hard to be fair and balanced and objective, I will probably fail. That said, on with the review!

Doors is the story of Jackie Karam, a struggling freelance comic artist in New York City; the brightest spot in her life is her friendship with rich, eccentric party boy Orne St John. Inspired by an old book and the strange real-life disappearance of its author, Orne gets a wild idea: if one had a lost book in one’s past, a book one could remember almost nothing about, perhaps finding that book could open a door into an alternate dimension.

Orne himself has no lost or forgotten books in his past, but it turns out Jackie does: a pulp science fiction novel recommended to her by her favorite high school English teacher just before he died in a car wreck.  (This is Alan Forrest, the romantic lead from A Question of Time.) In the wake of the accident, Jackie forgot everything about the book, even its title, only an image of the gaudy paperback she checked out from her hometown library lingering in her mind.

This thin thread is enough for Orne. Ready for adventure, he hauls Jackie off to Maryland to try to open an interdimensional portal. (more…)

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Jupiter Ascending is like the dream you might have, if you fell asleep on the couch after a heavy meal, probably involving alcohol (not beer, though; or even wine–too common. Absinthe or chartreuse), in a room with an Art Deco book on the coffee table and a Matrix poster on the wall, where your roommate was marathoning science fiction movies like Dune and The Fifth Element. Which is a pretty specific set of circumstances, come to think of it.


What I mean is, like a dream it lacks all coherence, you can’t recount what happened in it once you wake up, and though it looked pretty cool (my dreams always look cool, don’t know about you guys), you can only enjoy it because you were asleep. It’s terrible in a way that we don’t even have words for, so terrible that even now, having seen it, I’m not sure what I saw or if I actually saw it. As in dreams, characters come and go without explanation or purpose, conversations occur that seem to their participants to convey meaning but are actually nonsense, the scene jumps from place to place with no explanation so that a new nonsense conversation can take place.

And then, at the end, Channing Tatum has wings. Because at this point, why not.  (Actually, my favorite part of watching this film was when Tatum’s character ripped his shirt off, and one of the teenage girls in the front of the audience gasped audibly.  It was almost as great as the shirtless scene in Thor 2, when a woman in the audience actually yelled, “OH MY GOD!”)

It’s like the worst YA book* you’ve ever read, and the most frustrating, because it seems full of interesting ideas, ideas with a lot of potential for a cool story, but none of them are fully thought out or employed effectively, and then there are so many elements thrown in because why not? They are just cool. So what you have is idea salad, but no story, and that’s a shame, because Art Deco Vampire Space Royalty, and a beautiful Space Princess and Wolf Angel Boy who have to Put A Stop to their Evil, sounds like a really cool story, doesn’t it? Or maybe just a dream.

*Just to make it clear, I’m not bashing YA. I love YA, and many of my favorite books are marketed as YA. But even the most ardent YA fan has to admit that there are a looooot of terrible books on the shelves in the YA section, and that terrible YA has a different flavor than terrible SF or terrible romance or terrible fantasy. Some books–and some movies–are just terrible, and that is fact, but that fact doesn’t condemn a whole genre. Cool?

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Using this cover because I have a Thing for people standing on rooftops

I have a Thing for people standing on rooftops

So yesterday I read Patrick Rothfuss’s The Slow Regard of Silent Things, an odd, slantwise, e.e. cummings-ish little novella about the beauty in broken things and the quiet joy and dignity in setting one’s home to rights. It’s a very Advent-appropriate book, for those of us who attend to such things, a book of waiting and a book of cleaning and a book of working, and a book about the wonderful superabundance of creation. I was amazed and humbled and impressed at Rothfuss’s craftsmanship, because in less skilled hands the book would certainly have been cloying and smack-your-head-with-a-pillow whimsical, but he made it both delightful and yet earthy and grounded. Truly a great achievement.

But I’m not here to talk about that.I’d like to talk about what happened when I went to rate the book on Goodreads.

I didn’t expect it to be universally acclaimed. It is a weird not-really-a-story, as Rothfuss himself points out (and apologizes profusely for), and it’s certainly not for everyone. But what I didn’t expect were the one-star reviews simply boiling over with rage and vitriol, spitting poison in Rothfuss’s direction because Slow Regard is not the long-awaited Book 3 of his Kingkiller trilogy. Man, there are a lot of people who are really really mad about that.

Look, I get it. I want to find out what happens too, and that’s pretty frustrating. And it’s easy to get mad when you’re frustrated. Boy do I get that! Right now, I’m pretty mad/frustrated with myself, because the story I thought would be an easy jaunt has taken me years to write. I’m closing in on the end now … but I’ve been closing in on the end for months, so that doesn’t mean I’ll be done anytime soon. That is super frustrating! And probably the people who read Voyage to Ruin when it came out, to whom I said, “I’m working on the sequel; it’ll be done soon!” are frustrated, because most people’s definition of “soon” does not mean within a decade or so.

But listen, angry fanboys. Writers are not machines who can through some mechanical process sit down and bang out reams of excellent or even adequate prose without thought or rest or pause. We’re people. (And I’m not trying to put myself in the same class as Rothfuss, believe me! He’s a world-renowned best-selling author who has finished multiple books, whereas I have finished one and am staggering towards the end of another. But we both make up stories, so in that way at least we’re the same.) People who need rest, who need fun, who need time with their families, time with their friends, time to sing or dance or worship or have dinner or time to just chill for awhile. And whatever stuff it is that stories are made out of, it comes from ourselves, the deepest wells of our being. If the well is dry, if we’re tapped out, there’s just no story happening.

And life happens. Life, in fact, has a way of happening relentlessly and without cessation or pause. I know I’ve fielded some sudden and unexpected curveballs since I started working on Steel Butterfly in earnest: first, I got pregnant; then, my dad died; then, my grandmother died. That’s a lot of stuff to deal with, and it takes its toll on the writing as well.

Then, there’s another thing. Sometimes books don’t want to be written right now–and other books do. Rothfuss said pretty clearly that he didn’t intend to write Slow Regard. He had something else in mind entirely. But the story grew out of him, and it needed to be told. I have every confidence that Kingkiller 3 will happen when it’s ready to happen, but rushing it or forcing it is not going to make it a better story.

And finally there’s my favorite complaint, which I just have to address: the entitled fanboys fuming about how much time Rothfuss is wasting on his pet charity projects and Kickstarters, when instead he could be delivering his next novel into said fanboys’ eager hands. I would like these entitled fanboys (of whatever age or sex) to stop and listen to themselves. Rothfuss has helped raise thousands, maybe millions, of dollars for a charity that helps people worldwide to have enough food to eat–not just for a day or a week, but for the rest of their lives. It helps children go to school, who would otherwise be put to work or just starving. It educates women so that they can start their own small businesses and take care of their families. It is making the world a better place in an active and concrete way, and you’re mad because you can’t have what you want right now? What are you, four?

Lest all the above is not clear enough, let me point to someone more eloquent (and famous) than me, who wrote of a different famous and best-selling fantasy author, George R.R. Martin does not work for you. There you go, fanboys. Now take a deep breath and read some Brandon Sanderson. He puts out like five books a year.

P.S. I’m still running the A Question of Time giveaway, until midnight 12/28 (that is, the midnight that 12/28 begins, not the next day), so if you’d like to win a free book–maybe something to tide you over until Kingkiller 3 comes out–sail on over and check it out!

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Today, I’d like to introduce to you, my reader(s?), one of my favorite stories, a go-to comfort read when I’m feeling down and need an injection of happiness: Joanne Renaud’s time-travel romance novella, A Question of Time, available from Champagne Books. (Full disclosure: Joanne is a friend of mine, and I had the honor of reading the pre-published version of this story. I just re-read it, and that’s why I’m finally doing an honest-to-goodness review.)

AQOT_coverThe story follows Celia Cavalotti, a science fiction author in 2010 New York City, who is still struggling with the grief occasioned by the sudden death of her favorite English teacher, Alan Forrest, back in 1989. Mr Forrest, even before his death, had a huge impact on Celia’s life: encouraging her in her writing endeavors, giving her books to read, and helping her cope with her parents’ messy divorce. She has even taken his last name for her nom de plume, and publishes under the name C.L. Forrest. One day, fighting writer’s block and sorrow, she decides to take a trip back to her hometown in Maryland. Her car skids on the wet road–and she finds herself standing outside the White Plains library, in 1989. Here she meets Mr Forrest again, and as an adult she can see how handsome he is. However, she soon comes to realize that this is not only 1989, it is the very day before his fatal car crash. How Celia chooses to act, and the outcome of her choices, makes up the rest of the action of the story.

Now, I am not a huge reader of romances in general, or at least modern romances, which seem to me flat, dull and uninteresting, and usually badly written to boot. (I don’t have a problem with romantic themes in the stories I enjoy; Thor is one of my all-time favorite movies, and it has a strong romantic element. After all, romance, love, is an important part of life, and it would be dumb to leave that out of our stories.) However, I think Joanne has achieved something marvelous with A Question of Time, keeping a strong element of romance while making the story about more than merely “will these two crazy kids make it work?” The story’s theme is stated in the tagline, a quotation from Dan Simmons’s Hyperion: love [is] as hardwired into the structure of the universe as gravity and matter. Love, in this story, is stronger than grief, and love undoes the sorrows of the past, even unto the rewriting of history.

It’s also a lot of fun. Celia and Alan are excellent, well-drawn, appealing characters with great romantic and intellectual chemistry; their conversations about science fiction and their favorite books are just as enjoyable as their flirtation. (And if you were at all into SF in the 80’s, the author names they drop will be instantly familiar.) Even the minor characters, like Celia’s parents, or her 1989 classmates, are painted with subtlety and enough detail to make them come alive. (I particularly enjoyed Kevin, the kid with the nautical obsession. Just can’t put my finger on what made him so appealing to me!)

AQOT_joanne-artThe 80’s period detail is always spot-on–you don’t really think about the 1980’s as being the distant past or all that different from today (or at least I don’t), but it was thirty years ago. Joanne has an eye for the little details that make that time come alive again, from Alan’s enormous glasses and feathered hair, the blue eye shadow at the drugstore and the totally hip fashions of Alan’s trendiest students, even to the types of cars in the parking lot. This vivid attention to detail makes the setting come alive; I felt like I was standing outside the White Plains library with Celia, and I could practically smell the baking asphalt.

The story moves along at a good clip, effortlessly pulling one along through an interesting and engaging plot. It is one of those “I’ll just read a few more pages” books, unputdownable until you get to the end. It doesn’t hurt that the characters are so appealing (really, is there anything more important in a story than appealing characters?); they are like real people, and people whose company and conversation I enjoy.

And then there’s the ending. I think my reader(s?) will probably agree that a book can be almost perfect, but if the ending isn’t right, the whole frail illusion collapses into moonbeams and motes of dust. Fear not, however, for A Question of Time‘s ending is perfect. This is a spoiler-free review, so I will only tell you that Celia makes the right and necessary choice for Alan, for herself, and for that Love which underpins the fabric of reality, and because of her courage, she becomes not merely an ordinary woman but a hero. Pretty epic for a romance, huh?

So basically (and you might have already gathered this from the rest of the review) I love everything about this book. The characters are wonderful, the development of their romantic relationship (and their friendship!) is well drawn and believable, and the story, though not action-packed, has enough going on to always be interesting. The writing is good and often funny, and all of these elements would have been enough to form an enjoyable entertainment. But the additional theme of love–not only the sparkly-feelings romantic love of most romance novels, but the deeper, grander, more marvelous Love that truly is hardwired into the structure of the universe–elevates this story above its genre into something beautiful and true and deeply satisfying to the soul.


If A Question of Time sounds pretty good to you, stay tuned! I’ll be hosting a giveaway here in the next couple of days: author Joanne Renaud will be giving one lucky winner a free e-copy of her story (in the format of your choice), and a $10 Amazon gift card.  Can’t wait?  A Question of Time is available at Champagne Books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords,  Kobo, and All Romance Ebooks. Stephanie Draven, award-winning author of DARK SINS & DESERT SANDS, calls it “a clever love letter to the 1980s brimming with fun cultural references that warmed my geek girl heart.

You can also find A Question of Time on Goodreads.

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Not a review!

Also there are probably spoilers ahead.

So, Man of Steel.  So desaturated!  I felt like I was watching an early episode of Supernatural.  Which I guess is appropriate, since both are about Kansans saving the world.

Do you miss the red underpants?  I don't, because I'm too busy gazing at those cheekbones.

Do you miss the red underpants? I don’t, because I’m too busy gazing at those cheekbones.

Actually, the film did pretty well by us Kansans, although I’m not sure why Smallville had a 7-Eleven, a Sears, and an IHOP.  One of those I would believe (probably the Sears), but not all three.  But the Kent farm looked beautiful and perfect, and Kevin Costner, while a lot more ambiguous than you’d expect from Pa Kent, did a fine job.  And they worked in a tornado and never once used the word “twister.”  Well done, writers.

I appreciated especially the line: “I grew up in Kansas, General.  That’s about as American as it gets.”

The artsy way in which the flashbacks were shot and edited had the effect, I thought, of distancing the viewer from Clark.  Now, Superman must be the hardest character in the world to write, because none of the screenwriters who have ever tackled him, have ever succeeded in making him seem human, sympathetic, or relatable.  He is a distant figure, opaque and unknowable.  This I believe is the greatest weakness of Man of Steel and any other Superman film.  (I don’t read the comics, so I don’t know how he comes across there.)

Nice seeing some old friends from geekland, though: Harry Lennix and Tahmoh Penikett from Dollhouse (yes, I know Penikett was in BSG too), along with Alessandro Juliani also from Battlestar, not to mention the ever-wonderful Laurence Fishburne, and Richard Schiff, whom I recognized from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  Good times.

Amazing that a film with so much chaos and destruction could have felt slow and over-long.  I think, again, that the alienating way in which it was shot contributed to the problem.  We never feel invested in the characters.  At least not the main character.  (See above.  Though, as the mother of a son, seeing him interact with his mom gave me all the feels.)  One can’t help but compare it with last summer’s Avengers, which was much brighter both in color and in tone, also levelled much of New York City, and yet had a care for the random unnamed civilian population in a way Man of Steel didn’t.  Oh, except for that one family.  Who knows how many people died in those buildings Clark and Zod were smashing up, but letting that little family die was somehow over the line?  Filmmakers, I do not understand your brains.

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SPOILER WARNING: Very mild spoilers for Twelve by Jasper Kent, much more major spoilers for Out of the Dark by David Weber.

Hello, ladies...

Look out, ladies!

My dad loved Dracula.  When I was a wee tot, he read me Bram Stoker’s classic novel; I don’t remember this happening, but I’m told my mom disapproved.  (Mom and Dad didn’t see eye to eye on stuff like this; family legend has it that, for their anniversary, he took her to see Alien in the theatre.  I’m not sure that she was thrilled.)  Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula was one of his all-time favorite movies, and he enjoyed quoting some of the more over-the-top lines in a deep, appreciative rumble, like a wine aficionado savoring a favorite vintage.

It’s not a surprise that he communicated some of his enthusiasm to me.  I became an ardent Castlevania fan, enjoyed Van Helsing, geeked out when Dracula appeared in an episode of Buffy.  Of course, meeting Dracula in non-Stoker yet still vampire-related contexts is not terribly surprising.  But sometimes you run into the Count in (pardon the pun) the damnedest places.  Sometimes it makes sense, other times, not so much.

I am here to kill Frenchmen!

I am here to kill Frenchmen!

Jasper Kent’s novel Twelve centers around a group of Russian soldiers in 1812 who hire a band of mercenaries to help slow or even stave off Napoleon’s invasion.  The mercenaries turn out to be vampires, which is not terribly surprising for the genre-savvy reader; the nice surprise was their leader.  He appears only once, to drop off the twelve-vampire guerilla squadron, but the details of his appearance were perfect, from his manner to the dragon ring he wore.  The thing I appreciated most was, his presence in Imperial Russia could still fit in with Bram Stoker’s timeline for the undead nobleman.  After all, nobody said he wasn’t wandering around that area 80 years or so before he decided to move to London!

More surprising was his appearance in David Weber’s military sci-fi novel Out of the Dark.  Yes, that’s right.  Military. Science. Fiction.  With Dracula.

Of course!

I’ve never read any of Weber’s other books, so I can’t say how typical Out of the Dark is of his work.  The first two-third were fairly dull, alternating between the wolflike aliens invading Earth and the stalwart humans, mostly soldiers, operating in small bands to pick off the invaders.  Then, one of the soldiers winds up in Eastern Europe (specifically Walachia), where he encounters a local nobleman who is also battling the aliens.

The nobleman introduces himself as Mircea Basarab, a name which pinged something in my memory, but I couldn’t recall what.  Everything about his first appearance in the novel screamed “YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS GUY,” but of course he hadn’t been mentioned previously in the book, so I thought perhaps he might have been featured in another of Weber’s novels…?  Except not so much.

I am here to kill aliens.  And to look fabulous!

I am here to kill aliens.
And to look fabulous!

With Mircea’s help–his speed, his cleverness, and his amazing ability to get himself and his men into highly fortified alien installations and slaughter everyone stationed there without being caught by surveillance–the alien invaders are not only slowed, but entirely repulsed.  The book ends with “Mircea” and assorted of the main human characters (now not quite so human as they were) taking over an alien spaceship, while Mircea vows to take the fight back to the aliens’ homeworld.

Like you do.

Because when your planet is in the middle of an invasion from alien hostiles, what you need is … DRACULA!

(The little ping I got on my memory?  It’s because Mircea was the name of Vlad Tepes’s older brother.  Basarab is the name of their royal House, of which House Dracul was an offshoot.  Later in the book–you know, before he turns everyone into vampires and kills all the invaders–he apologizes for giving a false name.  He didn’t want to freak out the poor American.)

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am big huge fan of the kitchen-sink method of fiction-writing.  The more cool stuff you can pack into one book, the better!  It’s just that, “… and then DRACULA shows up!” is a bit startling in the middle of a fairly boiler-plate SF novel full of cardboard characters and lovingly detailed descriptions of guns.  I wish Weber had been able to work the Dark Prince into his book more smoothly, without that “WHAM! And now we’re going THIS way!” wrench of the steering wheel.

It does make me wonder, though.  What other novels would benefit from the inclusion of Dracula?  How about a Tom Clancy-style political thriller?  Dracula would make a heck of a spy!  Or one of those chick-lit books about shoes?  “I don’t know what to wear to Brian’s party,” Melissa sighed.  And then DRACULA showed up!

I am here to help you select appropriate shoes, Melissa!

I am here to help you select appropriate shoes, Melissa!

What do you guys think?  What other genres would be improved if Dracula showed up?

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13sfexp300Sometimes you stumble across pretty neat stuff on the internet.  Yesterday I found, via following one link after another after another, something called the 2013 Science Fiction Experience, hosted by Carl V at a blog called Stainless Steel Droppings.  (Confession: my dad was a huge fan of the Stainless Steel Rat books, but I have never read them; maybe now would be a good time to start!)  It sounds like fun, so sometime in the opening months of 2013 I’ll be posting some reviews of sci-fi I’ve encountered lately.

This is quite timely for me, really; inspired by Scott Lynch’s Queen of the Iron Sands serial, I’ve been plunging myself into some really old-school sci-fi; I’m talking vintage pulp from the early days of the genre, before the rules were set in stone–before there were any rules.  It’s exhilirating, so fresh and fun after a glut of dreary now-ness.  Everything old is new again!

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