Tuesday 30 June 2015

Review: 'Undercity', Catherine Asaro - 5* :)

Review: 'Undercity' by Catherine Asaro   5*
pub Baen Books, Dec 2014

Bhaajan, former major in the Skolian Space Command, is now a hard-bitten private eye. But the kidnapping of a prince brings back to the past she deliberately left behind - the Undercity. Only there can she find the clues to solve this crime - and a lot more.

Despite her pedigree Asaro was a new writer to me, but now I'm hooked, both on her writing and the Skolian universe. I already have another loaded on my ereader.

Basically this book had everything I wanted: strong characters, a new, unique world and a plot that wasn't as simple as it first appeared. Plus a great sense of pace, without which everything else falters?

Wish I'd written this one, and I don't honestly think that often. So consider trying it out?

Saturday 27 June 2015

And Now For Something Completely Different? - Review: 'Twisted Miracles', A J Larrieu 4* :)

Review: 'Twisted Miracles' by A J Larrieu      4*
pub Carina Press, April 2015


After the planet-bound space opera of the last post here, this was a walk on the lighter side.

A reluctant telekinetic is drawn back to New Orleans' supernatural underworld when her best friend goes missing, but once there she finds her powers, and her feelings for an ex, are stronger than before.

This one is a YA paranormal murder mystery, with a dash of romance - something for everyone. I especially liked the way this story jumped right in, adding just enough background to colour things but not worrying to much about explaining more. YA or adult, we none of us like being lectured, do we?

The plot was interesting, the characters likeable and it's nicely targetted as YA. OK, some characters are weaker than others, and I guessed who-dunnit in advance of the climax, But the premis and paranormal 'rules' were well conceived and credible.

And I enjoyed guessing and being right!

Review: 'Frontier Resistance', Leonie Rogers, 4* :)

Review: 'Frontier Resistance', by Leonie Rogers.         4*
pub Hague Publishing, out October 2014

a YA sequel to 'Frontier Incursion.'

This continues the tale of adults and near-adults making a life on the hostile planet they crashed on, now facing aliens intent on enslaving them. The key human characters are teamed up with panther-like creatures with empathic abilities, and in this book the humans start to learn more about these allies, and the effect they are having on humans.

The second book is very successful at introducing just enough plot etc to make it readable without knowing the first story, a sign of a good writer. I liked the plot and I enjoyed most of the characters, including the aliens. And the last quarter of the book ramped up the tension and came to a very good conclusion.

It's not the first time the idea has been written but it is a very nice effort, and I like stories that deal with aliens as real characters rather than 'the enemy'. If I'm disappointed it's for two reasons. The rather homogenous portrayal of the felines compared to the other characters [though I'll accept it was a big ask to distinguish so many characters]. But mostly it was pace. For three quarters of this book I found myself skim-reading to speed it up. But I kept reading. I wanted to know what happened, plot-wise, enough to put up with that.

So you might try a sample and see? Because if not for those two factors I might well have ended up giving it 5 stars instead.

Looking at the Month of June

My month began with what is now a six monthly visit to the nearby cancer department, to be told, yet again, that there's nothing wrong with me. It's a trek I don't mind it at all. It's nice to have it confirmed each time if nothing else.

For a long time I didn't talk about the subject. After all, who needs to hear depressing stuff like that anyway. I certainly didn't. nor did I like being fussed over or made to feel self conscious. I didn't even let it out to the people I spent my first Milford with, though I was going 'under the knife' the following week.

Now, though, it's a fait accompli, something that's dealt with and finished. Cancer made a lot of noise but it didn't follow through. Cancer, as an adversary, is a loser.

I suspect I always expected it to be, optimistic or not. I approached the topic as a nuisance I had to live with till it went away again, and in the end it did just that. Does positive thinking make a difference? Who knows, but it didn't do any harm.

I suspect it also made me a bit more stubborn about writing. I had the germ of a story in my head, but no one liked even the idea of it. Once upon a time I might have thought 'Oh well, it's got no chance' and given up on it. This time? I wanted to write the thing, and I was **** going to write it. The opening pages took me 5, yes 5, drafts to get to something that feels about right, but that's always the worst part. I almost have the rest now.

Will anyone like it in the end? Who knows. But I do, which is sort of the point. And since 'Ashamet' originally seemed equally 'unlikeable', and is now getting 5 star reviews and some staggering comments, maybe in the end this one will turn out not to be so awful as some people thought?

Fingers crossed. And keep going, regardless?

Sunday 7 June 2015

Review: Two for the price of one: 'How We Learn', Benedict Carey 5* + 'Transgender Lives', Kirsten Cronn-Mills 5* :)

Both these books are non fiction. In many ways they only other thing they have in common is their five star rating, but since I seldom review nonfiction I decided to put them together.

'How We Learn', by Benedict Carey, 5*
Pub Random House

"A practical, playful... guide to what we really know about learning and memory today - and how we can apply it to our lives."

Science reporter Carey's proposal: what if there was a way to achieve more [learning] with less effort? He explores this subject with an entertaining style and a personal touch that lifts this book well out of textbook status.

As a teacher myself - though now outside the school environment - I found this easy to read, informative, and something of a relief, as it confirmed many of the methods I and those around me already used. Except we were basing what we did on experience - or should that be trial and error?
Either way, this is a great book for anyone involved in or concerned about learning.

Maybe we should recommend it to some of those politicians who keep interfering in our education system???

'Transgender Lives', by Kirsten Cronn-Mills, 5*
pub Lerner Publicity

This covers the accounts of seven Trans people in the USA, their daily lives, their struggles and decisions, how they see themselves and how others see them.

I was frankly surprised by how easy to read this little book was, and can honestly say I found it both enjoyable and illuminating. Due, undoubtedly, to the honesty of the 'subjects', and the concise wrting style.
Thanks for this one.

I Don't Want to Brag - But Hey, Why Not For Once? I Have Reviews Coming In.

So 'Ashamet' is out, and has sold some copies, though I have no idea how many. I do know that a few nice people have been generous on Goodreads, either giving it 4+ stars or tagging it 'want to read'. And I'm fine with the one person I saw there who wasn't keen - that's free speech, and it was never going to be a story everyone would approve of, was it?

But I'm even more pleased about the more extensive review on sfcrowsnest. No, of course it isn't saying the book is perfect. Hell, nor would I. But some of the things it did say made my eyes widen, especially since when my publisher chose to quote "Fascinating" my mind immediately began to invent possible contexts for what they hadn't included.

Things like, say, "Fascinating... misuse of adverbs"?
or maybe "Fascinating in its awfulness"?

So it was a relief to read that it actually said "fascinating setting" instead. Not to mention

"very engaging voice"

"For all Ashamet's flaws, I really liked him!"

"I thought about [the story] when not reading it and made time to get back to it."

"When it was finished I wanted to know what happened next."

I really appreciate the remarks in this review, both the pros and the cons, and the time and effort it had obviously taken. Reviews are personal things, and no two people will react to a story in exactly the same way, but reasoned, balanced feedback, that's invaluable. And for now, until someone tells me otherwise, I'll make believe I've been lucky and pleased more people than not.

It was FREE - and You Missed It?

Last Saturday  was the annual mini-con that incorporates the BSFA and BSF AGMs - such a lot of initials. Which, being friendly people, they turn into an all day event by sandwiching the AGMs between two panels and two author interviews.

Guess what? The guests interviewed this year were:

drum roll please...




-and you missed it? [Disbelief] A chance to hear not one but two literary luminaries, both of them, incidentally, amusing as well as engrossing. [Sigh.]

As an extra bonus the BSFA meeting discussed their awards criteria, with special reference to people who attempt to influence votes for reasons personal or political. Sad Puppies can stay sad - they're still not welcome and won't be tolerated.
[If, by any rare chance you are not aware of the Hugo Award being under attack by fools who apparently believe cheating their way to awards means something, just search 'sad puppies' and 'hugo award'. If by any chance you should have voted for the Hugos, but didn't bother, maybe next year you might?]