Book Review – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted

Overall review:2 Stars (2 / 5)

First off, I want to go on record and say that I have been a fan of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series for years. I have loved the humor and creativity she brought to something that at first blush seemed to be a mashup that would never, ever work (i.e. Dragons in the Napoleonic wars). But she did a beautiful job with most of the Temeraire books, and they have been a reliable standby in the books I like to reread and listen to on Audible.

However, as much as I have loved Novik over the years, the last three books I have found to be less entertaining and less well developed than her first books. It seems that Novik, like so many other best selling authors,  has begun to rest on her laurels. Since her works seems to sell itself these days, it doesn’t seem like either she or her editor is working as hard as they did on the first books.

Which brings me to Uprooted.

I read Uprooted and was completely disappointed, especially when I know how skillful a storyteller Novik is. I understand her need to tell a story based on a Polish fables that she heard as a child, this in itself is a good idea and laudable. However, the book itself was just rather a dull, boring, predictable hodgepodge, with only a couple of interesting twists that made it worth reading (barely).

I have no idea how it became a finalist for a Hugo Award, and the fact that it won a Nebula Award is even more puzzling (and troubling).

Story Line:2 Stars (2 / 5)
Characterization:2 Stars (2 / 5)
Readability:2 Stars (2 / 5)
Writing Craft:3 Stars (3 / 5)
Cover Art:2 Stars (2 / 5)
Worldbuilding:2 Stars (2 / 5)

Guest Post on Epic Fantasy Writer – Humor in Epic Fantasy

Almost all authors (including myself) often ponder what is it that readers want. We spend hours, weeks, months, days, YEARS, writing, rewriting, editing, agonizing over a particular word, sentence or turn of phrase.

And still, very often the reader just does not buy into the story. They move onto the next downloaded sample from Amazon, the next game, the next movie or Pokémon Go and all that work is for naught – at least with that one particular reader…

Read the entire article here:

Book Review – The Running of the Tyrannosaurs

ROTT Overall review:4.95 Stars (4.95 / 5)

Far in the future, on a distant space station, young girls are chosen, trained, emotionally shaped and genetically modified for one purpose and one purpose only: to run and race tyrannosaurs, who have been brought back from extinction.  This is done for one reason – ENTERTAINMENT, on a galactic scale.

I listened to this novella of Stant Litore’s on Audible on a road trip.  First off, I want to say that I was very impressed with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, which of course is legendary now.  But, Hunger Games cannot hold a candle to the depth and richness of both story and character in The Running of the Tyrannosaurs.

While this novella is a good read at a superficial level, I found it more rewarding for its allegorical nature, which addresses our society’s fixation on the pursuit of beauty and attention at all costs.

The story line was fresh and new and wonderfully portrayed.  Characterization was beyond excellent, with inner conflicts written with a subtle and deft hand.  I can’t really comment on the readability, since I listened to an audiobook, but I am assuming it is very good – his other book I am reading now (The Zombie Bible) is near perfect.  As far as writing craft goes – Litore is a master.  The cover art is beautiful and  accurately portrays the premise of the book.  For the worldbuilding, I had a hard time getting my head around the venue of the race, but I plan on listening to the book again and I think that will help.

Just so everyone knows – one day Stant Litore will be an author that is taught in literature classes, because his writing is as meaningful and significant as Vonnegut, Huxley, Orwell and Clarke.  Litore is also what I consider to be a “writer’s writer” and worth studying for form and content by anyone who is interested in writing fiction.

Very, very well done.  If I can ever be even half the writer Litore is, I will be content.

Story Line:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Characterization:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Readability:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Writing Craft:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Cover Art:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Worldbuilding:4.75 Stars (4.75 / 5)

Book Review – The Life Engineered

life engineered Overall review:3 Stars (3 / 5)

The Life Engineered, by J.F. Dubeau is a story revolving around the trials and tribulations of a group of sentient robots, called Capeks.  The Capeks live in space, and their prime mission is to rebuild a destroyed Milky Way Galaxy.  Capeks have been created by humans just for this purpose.  But, when creatures are sentient, of course they develop their own ideas about things!

This book is a winner of the Sword and Laser Collection contest run on the Inkshares publishing site early last year.

I so wanted to like this book. I mean, sentient robots who get to live in space in a utopian society, not bound by nuisances like absolute zero, lack of gravity, no atmosphere, solar radiation etc.  What’s not to like? I read the first page, completely ready to be pleased.

But, about halfway through, I just had to put it aside.

I spent quite a bit of time in analysis on what it was I didn’t like about it, and my final conclusion it was just for too much to cover in one book.

There are basically three completely different settings, two of which need some real worldbuilding finesse to make them believable.  There are dozens of characters, and none of them are given the depth that is required to make them interesting and make the reader CARE about them.

The story line itself was muddled and the first three chapters were so diverse in settings and poorly transitioned, I had trouble piecing the threads of connection together, even half way through the book.  As I said before, the characterization was superficial, there were some nuances brought out in the protagonist at various points, which I thought were worthy of more expansion.  And there was a real bright and charming moment with one of the robot constructs that I enjoyed thoroughly.

And, as I said before the worldbuilding left a lot to be desired, in all three settings.  As far as craft, I think the talent is there, certainly the imagination is.  But, more work needs to be done to improve these skills.

Copy and line editing was excellent, I didn’t find any errors to stumble over.

The cover art was well done, rendered well on a computer and reflected the plot of the book very nicely.

And just as a side note, I think that this entire concept would have worked VERY well in a Weir/Howey model – i.e. short stories serialized over a period of time to give the author time to build a readership, develop a complex “storyverse,” and create real depth in the characters.  And those types of exercises always give an author the chance for improvements in crafting.

Story Line:2 Stars (2 / 5)
Characterization:2 Stars (2 / 5)
Readability:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Writing Craft:3 Stars (3 / 5)
Cover Art:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Worldbuilding:2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

Book Review – Isle of Winds

isle of windsOverall review:2 Stars (2 / 5)

I chose this book, Isle of Winds by James Fahy on the strength of good reviews (for independently published works) on Goodreads.  I didn’t realize at the time that it was a middle grade/young adult book (with the emphasis on middle grade).  But, it was an interesting story line so I went ahead and decided to review it.

It is a coming of age story of the protagonist, Robin Fellows, a twelve year old boy with relatives that are either dead or extremely eccentric.  He develops friends (both human, “fae,” “panthea,” and other) who help him along in his quest to develop hidden magical abilities.  He also has evil denizens of the Netherworlde who are out to control him for their own nefarious purposes.

Character development is really geared towards a middle grade audience, and adult readers will find them a bit flat.  Harry Potter fans will probably like the book, but the characters do not have the depth of Rowling’s main characters.

The book is desperately in need of good copy and line editing.  There were numerous grammatical and punctuation errors, and some sentences that just did not make sense.

As far as writing craft, the book had a good pace I felt, with interesting and varied characters and enough conflict to keep the story moving forward and the reader engaged.  Again, the straightforward prose is fine for a middle grade audience, but older readers will find it somewhat predictable.

The cover art was not impressive, and said little about the story line.  It displayed well enough on a computer screen, which is something that I am going to be adding into the cover art critiques.

Like the other review points, worldbuilding is suitable for a middle grade audience.  But older readers will find it a bit thin.

So – overall, I think this is a good story suitable for young people 6-14 years old.

Story Line:3 Stars (3 / 5)
Characterization:3 Stars (3 / 5)
Readability:2 Stars (2 / 5)
Writing Craft:3 Stars (3 / 5)
Cover Art:3 Stars (3 / 5)
Worldbuilding:3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

Asteroid Made of Dragons

asteroid made of dragonsOverall review:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Imagine a tea party.  Frank Zappa is the host, and he makes some “special” mushroom tea.  Attendees at the party include William Goldman (of The Princess Bride fame), Lewis Carroll (Looking Glass fame [of course]), and Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide) and they are told to collaborate on a novel.

I have to say even THEY would have had a tough time coming up with a book as entertaining as Asteroid Made of Dragons.

It has been many years since I have enjoyed any book as much AMOD.  Granted, during the first couple of chapters I was in a flashing brain state of WTF is going on??, but by Chapter 3, I was totally hooked.  And laughing.

I dearly love mashups as a rule, and this book was the mashup to end all mashups.  Just about every mythological, fairylogical, pixielogical, archetypal, supernatural and general magical creature/thing made an appearance at some point (I didn’t see unicorns or Orcs, that I recall – but I could have just overlooked them).  And, there were also steampunk-type airships, ghost-pirate zombies, at least one vampire (I think – all signs point to that fact), a seer and of course, the dragon asteroid.

The story itself (once I fully committed to the ride) was an entertaining Wild Mouse twister.  I never knew WHAT was going to happen next.  Characterization was neatly and skillfully done – especially considering the gamut of creatures that appeared at nearly every turn of the page.

Editing was outstanding.  At the end of the book, the author gives credit to “Lindsay Robinson for her blistering developmental edit.”  I have a feeling that this book was not the easiest book to edit – so more power to Lindsay!

I just had one small gripe – there was a sentence in about horses/riders “looping” which made no sense (horses lope).  I am a long time horsewoman – and when I run across inaccuracies like this I always get a sour face.

The cover art is very good, accurately portraying the lighthearted feel of the book itself.  Writing craft – I would say that Adams is well on his way to journeyman status.  And, worldbuilding – pretty good – considering there was so many worlds mashed together.

All in all – a classic and a must read.

Story Line:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Characterization:4 Stars (4 / 5)
Readability:4.75 Stars (4.75 / 5)
Writing Craft:4 Stars (4 / 5)
Cover Art:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Worldbuilding:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Book Review – Abomination

abomination

Overall review:4.25 Stars (4.25 / 5)

Abomination is a intricate tale of two troubled spirits both in desperate struggles against a merciless occupying army, class and gender biases. hordes of man eating horrors and overwhelming inner demons.  Set in 9th century England during the reign of Alfred the Great, it begins as a classic monster(s) hunt by noble and less than noble knights, then it becomes something much more meaningful and rewarding.

The two protagonists, Wulfric and Indra, both are believable as  typical characters in a fantasy novel but still complex enough to be interesting. And while there is some one-dimensionality in their roles as warriors, it is forgivable, because they have such tangled interior conflicts.

What I found I liked best about the book though was its unexpected message of the true meaning of compassion and forgiveness.  Not something you usually expect to find in a fantasy/horror book.  It made for an interesting and satisfying read.

The author, Gary Whitta, is best known as a screenwriter.  He has many notable credits to his name, including the original screenplay for The Book of Eli, the major feature film starring Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis.  So, as could be expected,  Abomination’s dialog was strong and amusing at times, I just wish there had been more of it.

Whitta’s writing style put me in mind of Ken Follett’s popular work, The Pillars of the Earth.  The story line was fresh and interesting, with enough plot twists to keep me up reading late into the night.  The readability (editing) was excellent – I only found one problem – a missed period.  There might have been other problems but it wasn’t enough to make me stumble while reading.  What a treat!

The cover art, done by Jason Gurley, is outstanding, that accurately reflects the story line and draws in the reader.

The book did lack in the worldbuilding aspect – I would have liked to have seen richer descriptions of England during this period, and those lack of details made the visualization of the story backdrop a bit on the muddy side.

All in all an excellent effort for a first novel.

Story Line:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Characterization:4 Stars (4 / 5)
Readability:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Writing Craft:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)
Cover Art:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Worldbuilding:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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Abomination by Gary Whitta

 

Buy on Amazon here:

Review – With Eyes Turned Skyward

 

With Eyes Turned Skyward

Overall review:3 Stars (3 / 5)

With Eyes Turned Skyward is set in a Post-Apocalyptic Earth where the land mass is greatly reduced due to “The Drowning” (rising of the seas).  The human race survives in small enclaves perched on mountain ranges or in other undrowned areas – some are beginning the struggle of reclaiming emerging land which has been taken over by “amphibious seaweed” (a feature I found highly entertaining) and vicious, mutant creatures.

However, other humans have taken to the skies in huge zeppelins that follow trade routes from settlement to settlement for profit.  These zeppelins not only carry passengers and merchants, but their own military forces (to fight off pestiferous sky pirates).  They are basically floating fortresses cruising at 14,000 feet – people are born, live and die on these airships, rarely touching dry land throughout their lives.

The protagonist of the story, Sage Bazmon, is an orphan who was born and raised on the Zeppelin, Artemis.  He becomes a soldier, a pilot and the savior of the world.  He earns the nickname “Saber” because of his bravery and skills as a fighter pilot (the dogfight scenes are very well done).

I really liked the story line of this book when I read the sample from Amazon.  It sounded fresh and interesting, a completely different take on post-apocalyptic fiction, which quite frankly has been done to death.  I also loved the book cover – very slick and professional looking, fitting the story line nicely.  The prose is written in first person, present tense, which I believe takes a certain amount of boldness, not to mention skill.  It gave the book a sense of immediacy and engagement which I thought fit well with the work as a whole.

However, like so many independently published works, this book is greatly in need of a really good editor(s) –  a good line/copy editor with some input on content improvement could make a huge difference.  I also found the electronic formatting inconsistent.  I don’t know how the formatting was done, but it didn’t do well with all my Kindle devices – when I tilted my tablet(s) I would get crazy indents etc.  Have no idea what caused it.  The pagination was also strange.

The Worldbuilding was weak – I found myself wondering about a lot of details i.e. where did they get the fuel for the zeppelins and other machines, where did they grow food etc.  Characters also were a bit one dimensional, except for the protagonist.

So, if someone can live with the editing issues I think it is an overall good story.   However, I found them incredibly distracting and had to force myself to finish once I got about half way through.

Nice effort for a first book, but it could be much better.

Story Line:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Characterization:3 Stars (3 / 5)
Readability:2 Stars (2 / 5)
Writing Craft:2 Stars (2 / 5)
Cover Art:5 Stars (5 / 5)
Worldbuilding:2 Stars (2 / 5)