Posted in Reviews

Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

imagesHave you ever thought at a book you were reading? “Using a somewhat obscure historical phrase that I happen to be familiar with will not save you.” In those moments, the book becomes less of an experience and more of a study—the narrative loses power and you’re left as an observer rather than a reader. It is as an observer that I finished my read through of Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson.

The plot of Aurora follows a ship bound for Tau Ceti, a far flung solar system where humans of the future might expand humanity beyond the familiarity of our own eight planets (give or take Pluto). As the journey progresses and the destination is reached, the tribulations of living in and maintaining a ship for that long, as well as settling on a planet that has only been explored with a probe, are experienced. You follow the characters through social and environmental upset, all bedecked with a heavy dose of hard science fiction.

It is important to know that I often find hard sci-fi to be a bit much. It makes me lose some connection to what I’m reading, as I don’t like to parse through pages of very intricate, scientific language to get back to the narrative. It’s also worth noting that I feel the same way about the histories of weapons and hills and people in Tolkien, and I’m quite a fan of Tolkien. So I do understand why some might like it. Indeed, some might like Aurora because of its hard sci-fi inclusions. But none of those people are writing this review.

The story felt like it should be interesting. It was entertaining enough, if a little dry. Things that happened within the plot had the potential to be intriguing, but were left feeling hollow by the author’s tone and choices. At one point, the AI of the ship takes over, creating a narrative tale of the ship’s voyage, which piques the reader’s interest. At another point, the ship must make a decision that changes the lives of those on the ship, and the interest is further piqued.

Unfortunately, much like the ship’s deceleration as it approached its destination within the pages of the novel, the rest of the book after that slowly ran out of fuel. These brief flashes of interest were not enough to carry the book much further, and I found myself repeatedly skipping several pages of the AI’s self exploration, bogged down so thickly with scientific jargon and futuristic concepts of mathematics and sociology that I didn’t have the patience to parse it. And that was a let down, I assure you. An AI exploring the sense of self, the sense of humanity it has gained in making decisions and working as the Rule of Law on the vessel should endlessly intriguing to read. It wasn’t.
In short, I will call Aurora a DO NOT READ. If you’re a fan of hard science fiction, you might find it redeemable enough. The ending itself was a true let down, not good in any sense of the word. And again, there, the author took some very interesting steps into explaining a human sensation, of seeing a dawning of experience that many readers could find within themselves, and ruined it by abruptly ending the book, face down in the sand for no reason, just like the main character.

Posted in Requests & Announcements, Reviews

Free E-book: Mercury, Sulfur, & Salt by Ben Stahl

If you’re interested in fantasy, I invite you to check out the short story Mercury, Sulfur, & Salt by Ben Stahl, recently updated and made free. Scroll to the bottom of this post for links on how you can download your copy!

The story follows a young girl named Rhea Saturna, who lives with her alchemist father. In one night, her life changes forever.

As the daughter of a powerful alchemist, Rhea resents the fact that her father refuses to teach her anything more than rudimentary alchemy. Though she understands that he is trying to protect her after her mother died in a violent alchemical accident, she still hates the secretive nature of his work. After an argument with her father, she seeks out his assistant Aurora. Instead of receiving the comfort she sought, she is asked to violate every belief she’s ever held.

Strange cloaked figures swarm the village, reducing it to cinders while they work to contain the deathly whispers floating on the scorched air. The night is red with blood and fire, filled with the screams of the dying—and something else. She must wade through the chaos of the village to try and find her father—and some answers—before everything dear to her is reduced to ash.

Worst of all, Rhea knows that it is all her fault.

Stahl is currently writing his first full-length novel, a continuation of Rhea’s story. Be on the lookout for more information on this blog, or follow the author’s blog at A World in Words.

Download Mercury, Sulfur, & Salt for free in .pdf, .mobi, and .epub:

If you try this story out and enjoy it, please share it with anyone you think might enjoy it as well! Honest reviews are also appreciated on any platform of your choice.

 

Posted in Reviews

Review: Gilded by Christina Farley

gilded coverIt’s been a while. Mostly, I’ve not felt drawn to many books lately. The few that I’ve read are books that I’ve read before, so I didn’t feel the need to rehash my thoughts on them. One day I sat down and decided to pick a book a read it, so I grabbed Christina Farley’s Gilded, which was hanging out in my Kindle Library for quite some time. I think it was one of the Kindle First free books. Young adult with Korean mythology seemed like a solid enough start.

Gilded was one of those books that rests squarely in the category of mediocre. The writing was solid, the plot was decent, and the characters were moderately well done–and it all added up to be a reasonably fresh peanut butter and jelly sandwich in your lunchbox on Tuesday. Sure, most people like PB&J barring a life-threatening allergy, and it’s a solid choice for lunch, but it isn’t going to be quite as nice as your Italian great aunt’s special four-cheese lasagna, reheated and packed with a note from Mom.

There’s been quite a storm of young adult books that appeal to adults, and Gilded is firmly located in this group. I think, however, that its plot points and writing style make it less appealing to adults than most. For instance, I think 13 year-old me would have thought more highly of this novel. It was entertaining for my 29 year-old self, but a few elements, including the heroine’s romantic interests, were a bit on the early teen side of things and made me cringe.

Overall, I would say that Gilded is a READ WITH CAUTION. It’s definitely potato chip fiction, an easy read for entertainment, with nothing too in depth to do other than crunch and munch your way through it. The addition of Korean mythology was interesting, but the novel only touched on in a bare sense aside from immediate story elements, and while the heroine’s black belt skills weren’t entirely a bit of a side-eye, some of the moves she pulled off were excessive and overwrought. The pacing is a bit too quick, the events abrupt and bare, and the overall effect leaves you wanting a different snack.

 

Posted in Reviews

Review: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

thejunglesinclairI’ve spent the majority of my 28 years with a vague notion of the book that is Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. I think I first learned about it in middle school, in relation to early 19th century American history and how it caused a ruckus with food safety regulations. Years ago, I picked up a copy of the book (a free Kindle edition) out of a faint desire to read it. Unfortunately (or fortunately for you, dear reader), I didn’t actually act on that desire until a week or so ago.

In order to understand my review of The Jungle, it is pertinent to understand the history of the book, as I took this knowledge on the journey through the stockyards of Chicago. I viewed the book as both a story and historical work.

Sinclair was a muckracker, a journalist who specialized in exposing corruption. His goal in writing The Jungle was to showcase the plight of immigrants to the US, as well as the working class of Americans at this time. Perhaps the most telling aspect of what the public actually took from the book (food safety reform outcry) is Sinclair’s own quote: “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

To summarize the novel, a group of immigrants from Lithuania heads to Chicago, having heard of the large fortune to be made working in the stockyards that prepare most of America’s meat products. Unsurprisingly, there’s little wealth to be had for unskilled foreigners, and Jurgis and his family become a cog in the machine of poverty. The book generally follows the rule of “if something bad can happen, it will happen,” so it isn’t exactly a cheerful read. In the end, Jurgis joins the socialist party and begins to almost maybe survive in a way that is somewhat tolerable. The end.

As a story, the book is a bit bloated and odd. Most likely a sign of the time period in which it was written, certain aspects of the story seem long winded, especially when it comes to recounting different political speeches. If you’re a fan of descriptions, the book does a great job of setting the scene for what it’s like living and working in the stockyards in this time period, which is most likely what drove people to clamor for food safety regulations. The parts of the book describing the stockyards practices and procedures (chock full of corruption) aren’t suitable for the faint of heart.

The ending of the novel is odd, slowly tapering to a stop like a soapbox derby car reaching the end of what friction will allow it to accomplish. In the end, there’s simply a series of multiple-page conversations with one person speaking, followed by a single speaker making a call to action about socialism. The entire last 5% of the book is really socialist rhetoric. As such, it isn’t much of an ending. I guess the hero of the book wins, maybe?

From a historical point of view, the book was fascinating. The depiction of life, poverty, and the overall horrific conditions in which people worked, lived, and ate from are pretty horrendous and seem like they must be hyperbolic, but that isn’t the case. It’s pretty crazy to think that life and work in this area was actually like this at one point in time, and it’s hard to comprehend from today’s standards. It’s also horrible to think that there’s a lot of things about today’s standards and practices that we probably don’t know about, or that we do condone, that might horrify future generations.

Overall, I’d call this book a READ WITH CAUTION. As a historical research read, it’s pretty fascinating, but the story is bleak and isn’t much of a plot aside from heartache and death after heartache and death.

 

 

Posted in Reviews

Review: The Unbroken Line of The Moon by Johanne Hildebrandt

http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQmlxaqUmO3NLJtQd85BnHtW_AKjn6YL8a9Jp6iG7pbvkV2UPzvWhere the heck have I been? In short, I’ve been editing my soon-to-be-husband’s book, Transmuted. As an editor by trade, adding more editing to the load at night meant that I pretty much didn’t want to read for a while, so I’ve been very absent from this blog. I’m back now, but thus far it’s been a bit iffy.

As you may know, Amazon Prime members get to choose one of a selection of Kindle books for free at the start of each month. When this program first started, I was able to grab several decent books. As time has gone on, I have been less and less interested in the selection, and the books I have been interested in have been mediocre at best. For a few months straight this year, I haven’t even picked up any of the free books because none of them were even remotely interesting. As such, I was relieved to see a historical fiction centered on vikings a few months ago in the Kindle First lineup, and grabbed it.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t really that great.

I’ll start this review by saying that I did not finish The Unbroken Line of The Moon, by Johanne Hildebrandt. The basic plot revolves around two to three main characters, and switches between their perspectives. Unfortunately, only one of those characters maintained any sort of compelling story for longer than a chapter. As the book went on, I found myself skipping large swaths of text, and eventually I no longer had interest in trudging through the boring character’s chapter to get back to the mildly fascinating.

The Unbroken Line of The Moon follows the interconnected tale of a few young people in the age of vikings when they had begun to truly clash with Christianity. Several of the viking tribes have actually converted to Christianity (even if only in name), but the main characters are loyal to the Norse pantheon.

Throughout the book, the reader must question whether the intervention of the Norse gods (think Freya, Thor, and the like) is actually happening, or if it’s a random coincidental course of events that makes it believable. I enjoyed this aspect.

The author also did her research. Whether it’s the politics of the age, the pantheon itself, or the mention of an Ulfberht sword, the author did due diligence when researching this period in history. Unfortunately, that research does nothing to bolster the bland, vapid characters and plot.

Perhaps I’m a jaded curmudgeon, but I saw the plot coming from a mile away. Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of books I’ve read where I could guess the plot, but it was still interesting to read because the characters and circumstances had real substance. Here, the plot was weakly filled in by a cast of ghost-like characters who were ruled by overt religious feelings and destiny in such a way that nothing really exciting ever happened.

I can’t comment about more than 60% of the book, because that’s as far as I got before I had to stop. That being said, I feel confident in saying that unless you really, really like Norse mythology and politics of that time period, this book is utterly skippable. Even with my interest in the time period and mythological stuff, I just couldn’t get into it.

Glad it was free. Did not finish.

Posted in Reviews

Review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

51qov-pgncl-_sx330_bo1204203200_TL;DR: This is a book of decent advice hidden in a sea of excess examples, author ego, and general organizational issues. 25% stuff, 75% fluff.

Review:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, is mentioned by several sources as a go-to book for those looking to learn more about editing fiction. As a professional editor wanting to learn more about the ins and outs of editing fiction narratives, I thought it might be a good resource to try.

Overall, the book had some very interesting and important things to teach. This includes dealing with narrative distance, considering how dialogue is presented (and tagged), and the importance of show, don’t tell. I downloaded the sample chapter and was pleased with what I read, even if I felt like there were a few too many examples.

Upon reading the entirety of the book, though, I’m not sure the writers drank enough of their own Kool Aid. Elements of style and examples were treated inconsistently (for example, halfway through the book they decided to use bold text to convey meaning). Some sentences simply didn’t make sense, either because of some slang term I wasn’t privy to, or simply because they were trying to force a casual tone.

I respect the authors for trying to weave in as many examples as they could to show the points they were making, but often they would throw several different excerpts of varying lengths at the reader and then expect you to refer to a point made with the first example many pages later. By the end of the book, I found myself skipping examples altogether out of boredom. I feel that more succinct, carefully chosen examples would have been far more effective. Many reviewers seemed perturbed that the book chooses to critique The Great Gatsby. I found that example to be effective in how it shows the emotion written into the scene already. The authors readily acknowledge that fiction writing style has changed since then, and are merely making a point with a familiar, widely-accepted piece of prose.

Throughout the book, the authors have added in half-page comics that are extremely odd and distracting. Not only do the comics not make much sense with the context of their placement half the time, but the text on the comics is written in an untidy scrawl that requires decoding and is often longer than a few sentences. They were certainly a flop with me, at least.

I take issue with the authors repeatedly referring to perpetrators of the issues they warn against in this book as “hacks,” implying that every author that might employ a technique they don’t agree with is maliciously intent upon tricking their readers. The authors also state that since they’ve published the first edition of this book, they’ve noticed writers seem to take their advice too much to heart, which is a somewhat pompous assumption at best.
I do think the authors of this book intended to make a friendly, casual learning text for authors and editors to reference in order to learn how to look at fiction editing. It includes exercises and bulleted lists of the big topics at the end of each chapter, which is good. If you can successfully navigate the excess in its pages to find the good information, it can be a beneficial read. Unfortunately, I have to call this a READ WITH CAUTION.

Posted in Reviews

Review: The Last Girl by Joe Hart

Spoiler-free Snippet51quznf0tsl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Joe Hart’s The Last Girl is a forgettable dystopian “thriller.” I’m honestly not sure why it’s classified as a thriller. In basic summary, the world has suffered a widespread issue (virus? plague? genetic abnormality? microwaves?) where no girls are born. As such, this causes problems and the globe eventually swings into political and societal turmoil. The protagonist is a young woman housed in a facility that is supposedly trying to find a cure. Nothing felt particularly new or original about this novel, though the characters weren’t awful and it was somewhat entertaining. I’m glad I got it free through the Kindle First program. If you’re looking for a generic novel about survival in a dystopian world, this might not be a bad read for you. In my recommendation, however, it is definitely a READ WITH CAUTION.

Here, There Be Spoilers

Hart’s The Last Girl attempts to create tension and suspense with the mystery of the “facility.” As with many stories of this type, the protagonist is essentially a prisoner inside a system that is trying to research a cure for the issue that caused the birth rate of baby girls to drop significantly enough to change the entire world.

The main character is smart, and there is definitely tension among the characters themselves. There’s a variety of clandestine romance, as well as a few tense moments, but overall you simply find out about how the facility is not what it seems to be in more detail as the story goes along.

The main character’s breakout was just this side of realistic. She at least had the foresight to pay attention to things and watch for openings, which helped her in escape. She also didn’t get herself killed going back for the other women, which would have made her escape impossible and completely ruined the validity of the novel. After this bit of saving grace, she survives a helicopter crash–but at least had the decency to be injured.

I liked the concept of the society, and felt that the world was fairly true to what might be if such a global disaster were to happen. The facility itself and the “Fae Trade” in the outside world that sold women were both believable. The main character’s level of suspicion was also refreshing, along with the diversity of the group of survivors. Old man sniper, younger soldier type, and mute seen-to-much young boy were fairly stereotypical, but had enough personality to not be too boring. I’m still not quite sure exactly how they used a boat to break into the facility through a laundry chute, but at this point I’m not going to dedicate the brain cells.

The ending, while believable in a certain sense, was a touch too melodramatic for my tastes.
Unless you’re incredibly interested in this type of story, I’d pass. I call it a READ WITH CAUTION. It’s certainly no Arena One or Armada, but it definitely isn’t compelling.