Friday, November 23, 2012

Review of Sacrifice of Innocence

Sacrifice of Innocence by Allison Cosgroveêêê stars

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for a review.

Warning: There are spoilers and hints of spoilers in this review.

Stan is a hard-working detective who is trying to rebuild his status after trouble with alcohol.  His partner has a reputation as well, but they work well as a team—and their relationship was truly one of the most enjoyable parts of the story.  It felt like a real partnership and there wasn’t a romantic undertone like many authors would have taken.

The plot of the story centers on a series of child abductions and murders that have finally been linked together.  At the start of the story, the police believe they have the right man in custody but another kidnapping casts that into doubt.  The trial is not going well, and despite the hope that the child was abducted by a copycat, Stan begins to believe that something more is happening.  The mother of the child gets involved, and slowly the protagonists realize that this is not a standard kidnapping.

The good parts of this story are very good: Stan is an interesting protagonist and a fun character to follow around the story.  The mother of the kidnapped girl is a very strong female character, not something you see in stories now—at least not really.  She feels very real—perhaps even more than Stan.  The backstory with the child’s father also plays out very well, and I like that the situation between mother and father isn’t completely settled.  There’s a sense that things will have to be worked on between them, but there is hope.

The weakest part of the story is the villains.  They make foolish mistakes which helps the protagonists, particularly Stan.  The personal attacks on his nature only serve to make him sure that something is wrong.  At one point, the leader of the villains seems to have magical powers which she wields over a minion, only those never show up in the final fight, when they would help her group the most.  I recognize that these could have been a fabrication of the minion’s mind, but I would have liked to know that for certain.  But the biggest issue I had was that there was no revelation regarding why the villains were the way they were.  If you don’t want HUGE spoilers, don’t read any further in this paragraph… gone?  Okay, good: the villains follow a deity of a Mesoamerican faith but they are not Mesoamerican in heritage.  How you end up with modern Caucasians following a Native American god would make a fascinating story, particularly given the heights of power some of the villains reach.  It is clearly a secret society, but it’d be really interesting to learn how it came to be and how it gained the power it has.

Overall, I still enjoyed Sacrifice of Innocence.  The characters, the heroes especially, are particularly well-written and very engaging.  The plot and strong characters carried the story, earning it three stars.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review of The Black Sacrament (Part 1)

The Black Sacrament (part 1 of the “Creatures of Fire” Series) by J.B. Brooklin—êê stars

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for a review.

Warning: There are spoilers and hints of spoilers in this review.

Sariel is the orphaned ward of her uncle, Harold Baldwin.  Alexander is an ifrit, a demon of fire that avenges murder.  He has come to New York to punish Harold, but first has a chance meeting with Harold’s niece, Sariel.  She’s been in her uncle’s domineering care since her parents died.  He’s sent her to boarding schools, but now she’ll soon graduate and attend college.  Her plan is to go the Paris and study art; he demands she go to Harvard.  Uncle Harold is more than just a bossy guardian, as Alexander quickly learns.

This is a fast, quick read.  Part of that is due to the fact that it’s only part of the story and the rest comes from the author’s simple style.  The words used are all very-well chosen and I never had an issue reading the story.   The Black Sacrament is given just enough details for me to be interested in what it will be while not spoiling the final surprise, which I assume will be in Part 2.  And the last few lines of Part 1 do build significant interest for what will happen in Part 2.

My first issue with this partial story is that it isn’t a complete story.  I probably should have caught that with the subtitle “Part one” but it also said it was a series.  I read that to mean that this would be the first book in the series, so when the end of the document didn’t contain a resolution, I was disappointed.    Next, while a quick read is a good thing, I think the author could have slowed the story down and fleshed out her world and her characters some more.  As one example, I know that Alexander is an ifrit and that heat heals and revitalizes him while cold impairs his powers but little else.   Moderate use of flashbacks could fill in more details about him as a character, so that we get to know and care about him.  Same with Sariel and Harold—though obviously caring about Harold is not exactly the goal.  He’s there to be the villain but we could still learn more about him.  Why does he want the Black Sacrament?  Is there a reason beyond having all the power in the universe?  Perhaps he has a dead wife/daughter and this is the only way to have her returned to him?  Those kinds of details would enhance the characters greatly.

The last note I’ll add is that I hope Harold’s existing powers are adequately explained in part two.  He seems pretty powerful already, even before acquiring the Black Sacrament. 

Overall, the Black Sacrament is an interesting teaser with good characters and a truly sinister villain.  I look forward to reading more.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More Inspiration

I filled out interview questions today for a review in a series of blogs.  There were a lot of questions, some of which were really hard.  Among one of the easier ones was a question about where I get the inspiration to write.  There are a lot of answers I could give, everything from a desire to be my own boss doing the only thing I’m really good at to just enjoying writing. 

But in truth (as I said in the answer I gave), I’m pushed to write.  My stories get into my head and demand to be written.  When I’m in the groove, I can write effortlessly.  Each word flies onto the page, and while they may not come out in their perfect form, they come.   When I’m not in the groove or anywhere close, each word feels as though I was drawing it up out of a deep well, straining hand over hand to pull up a dripping bucket…

When I’m editing, I can always tell if I was in the groove or not on the first write-through.   It’s much less work if I was in that magical place. 

But regardless of whether it’s easy or hard, one thing remains the same: I have to write.  Sure, I can pause for moments in time, to eat and sleep, or to tend to the important things like job and family.  But when I’m not doing something that I must do or that is necessary to my values, I want to be writing.  Even when I can’t write, my brain whirls with thoughts and ideas; I formulate scenes or ponder issues that I need to work out for a story or world.  I touched on this briefly and poorly on my August 20th post, when I talked about overcoming writer’s block by writing.  And external things can help me get into the groove.  But the drive to write, the thing that keeps me coming back to the keyboard is the near-painful itch to get the stories in my head onto paper.

I’d call it an addiction… I was going to try to defend that it’s not an addiction, but it is.  It can be harmful if I let take over my life.  So I’m just going to say that no, my inspiration, my addiction, doesn’t stop. 

And if it ever does for some reason, shoot me now, because I’m already dead.

What about you?  Where do you get your inspiration from?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review of Adrift

Normally I wouldn't do another review so soon after the last, but I tore through this book and finished in record time.  As you can see from the review, that's a good thing.

Adrift (The Last Selkie, Book One) by Elizabeth A. Reeves—êêêêê stars

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book one Amazon, then decided to review it. 

Warning: There are spoilers and hints of spoilers in this review.

Meg is left bereft and alone when her father dies of cancer.  After giving away or selling everything of value, she gets in a car and heads in random direction.  After driving until she’s out of money, she finds herself in Newfoundland, on the coast.   The sea calls to her, and Meg gives herself to it.  When she wakes, she’s in a cottage with a strange woman.  Without speaking, the woman disappears.  That is just the start of the weirdness that becomes normal for Meg.

This book deals heavily with the Fae.  I always approach those books with trepidation, because it’s so easy to make the Fae into humans with pretty magic, when the old legends are so different.  I always wonder which I’m getting when I start reading.  I shouldn’t have worried in this case, because the Fae in Reeve’s story are those dark creatures of legend.  They are presented as wonderfully not-human—not evil, just not us.  The world is richly described, with care given to immerse the reader in the world.  I found the characters interesting, even the ones we only catch glimpses of. 

As for the negative, I found only a few typos, nothing too glaring.  The story itself certainly didn’t put me off.  The only real “negative” was the ending, as in, the book ended!   The end was bittersweet and set with a cliffhanger, yet was written in such a way that I felt like the story being told in Adrift (a very apt title, I’ll add)  was finished, and Meg was getting ready for a new adventure.

I dithered between four and five stars on this.  The final question was, “Would I read this story again?”  When I answered yes, I felt that it has the fifth star in my book.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Review of Me, Myself and i-Chart

Me, Myself and i-Chart by Jonathan Ardellêêê stars

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book for the review. 

Warning: There are spoilers and hints of spoilers in this review.

My latest book to read has been Me, Myself and i-Chart.  The story is told from the point of view of Richard, who is hired to be a quality manager in a remote factory in Alabama.  Richard isn’t sure he is qualified for the job, or that he wants to take the position after living in greater Chicago area.  But the perks of the job—and the charms of a lovely local—sway him and he is soon packing his bags and headed to the backwater.  But not all is as it seems, and soon Richard is in deep trouble.

The story is in first person and has two ‘voices’.  Without going into spoilery details, I’ll simply say that the in-story reason for the voices, told in two different fonts to differentiate between them, is explained clearly.  The story is told in an engaging, easy-to-read style, and the scientific jargon and math is explained in layman’s terms.  I didn’t really struggle with the technical details, and that’s really not my strong suite.  The story was often witty and because it was set in prior years, it was refreshing to be reminded of how things were before cellphones.  The characters are interesting, particularly Richard (which is great, since he is the one that really has to be).  The supporting cast is particularly strong, and I suspect that they are based on types of people the author has met before.

I had some issues with the book.  There is a lot of backstory in the book; I’d guess about a third of the story was background, and not just on Richard.  There was quite a bit told about the history of the facility, Fab 9, which didn’t feel pertinent to the story being told.  It was also a bit jarring because at times, Richard recounts the story as if he’d witnessed these events when he did not.  Another problem is that the story has a number of foreshadowing which verge on spoilers.  By the climactic scene, I was already aware of how it would play out, in general, which had an impact on my suspense.   The last major issue was the two voices that the story is told in.  As I mentioned before, there are two different fonts, one for each voice.  The voices narrate the story together; I found them a distracting at times.   Sometimes I’d see the font change and my eye would skip down; other times, I thought that the font didn’t match the voice.  Integration of the voices into a unified narrative would help the flow of the story and limit the reader getting distracted by the switches in font.

These issues aside, I enjoyed reading the story.  It was quirky and fun, and I found it engaging.  It took a subject that could be dry and difficult and created an interesting adventures story (tinged with romance).  All in all, well worth a read.  

At this time, Jonathan is trying to find an agent or a publisher, and I hope he does.  I'd like to see this book published.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Book 2 Progress

This is a quick note to my readers to let them know that yesterday I finished the first draft of Gideon Book 2.  It's longer than City of Promise, which I think people will appreciate.  It also has lots of action and takes a bigger look at the other side of Gideon, at the law and order of the city.

Now it's in the first edit process, after which I submit to my publisher.  I'm on my way to having a real series!

I'll keep you updated!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Buying Reviews and Socking the Puppet

Lately, there have been a number of articles about authors padding their reviews on Amazon.  There are two ways that they commonly do this; the first is to hire a third party to write five star reviews for them.  This method has, according to the man who was interviewed by the NY Times for the story, generated real sales for the authors.  Having the good reviews got people to try their works, and they found that they liked the author.  The second method is "sockpuppetry" which sounds like something awesome you do with kids at camp but is creating multiple accounts and posting reviews on each of those accounts praising your work.  One author, R.J. Ellory, took that a bit further and actually went to other authors' work, deriding them.

What are we to make of these trends in the digital world?  The first and most obvious answer is dismay that a system designed to help us find the books we will like is being circumvented and turned into paid advertising or an author's personal bandwagon.  Then the cynicism creeps: anything can be bought and sold, or twisted.  Last is only a sorrow, wondering if we can trust the reviews like we used to.

I'll admit: for a second, I wanted to buy reviews.  Selling your own book is hard work.  I don't know a lot of people.  I don't have a huge following.  I'm not a celebrity or someone well-known.  I'm starting at the ground floor, and I'll admit that getting a boost like that for something as inconsequential as money sounded pretty good.

But of course, I didn't.  Not only is the company now gone, but joining in would make me part of the problem.  And it is a problem.  Even if the first method is just paid advertising, it still erodes people's trust in the review system.  Without that system, people aren't sure if they're going to like a book.  Reviews at least gave people an idea of whether a book was worth their money and effort.  Ah, but quick fixes are so tempting.

I never really considered sock-puppeting.  It would take a lot of time, particularly to get any substantial return.  I'd rather spend that time doing things that created genuine fans and fan relationships.  It'll take a while to have a following; I know that.  I'm content to work on it.