Random Thoughts Raised While Reviewing

Novels in a Polish bookstore

Novels in a Polish bookstore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the focus of this blog is typically on books, occasionally things happen that seem to call out for the generation of some additional attention. For example, two weeks ago I received two packages in the mail from two different publishing companies. Both packages came on the same day and both contained books. The packages actually contained books that were frighteningly familiar. In this case western vampire novels. Even the covers looked similar. The two books in question were Blood Riders by Michael P. Spradlin and The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins. Both covers are done in blues and greys with the protagonist primary. In each case the protagonist is in a black duster and holding a large rifle. If you want to read reviews of the novels in question you can find them at SFRevu.com . I review for them as well.

Random thought jump.  So, I was reading a novel and the main scene in one of the later chapters involves the capture of a bad guy. The bad guy is tied to a chair in a room filled with members of the protagonist group, one of whom wants to shoot the bad guy in the head. The remaining members are not that different in their feelings. Then, there is an occurrence outside the room and everyone leaves.  Must have been some commotion because the bad guy who is tied to the chair is never mentioned again in the book. Guess he wasn’t that important.  Guess he’s still there, tied to that chair.  We’ll never know.

Random thought shift.  I was reading another novel and it seemed like every other page contained either a spelling or grammar error. In some cases words were repeated or there were words left after obvious changes made either by the author or an editor, while in others there were name shifts and word exclusions. If this had been a minor press, I would put it down to economics or time pressures. But this was a major publisher and a major author. Clearly the book had to have been copy edited prior to being published so it had to have passed under at least two sets of eyes–the copy editor and the author approving the copy edits–prior to publication.  This makes it very hard to explain. The occasional error, sure, that happens, but the error rate in this book had me wanting to pull my blue pencil so I could send the thing back to the publisher just to make a point. The bottom line here is that time spent identifying or figuring out errors is not time spent immersed in the story.

Random thought shift.  The last random thought I have, well, it’s not the last random thought I have but the last one that I am going to share with you here, is that I have noticed a trend on the part of publishers to not let you know whether a novel is part of a series or not. To my mind it would be helpful, prior to picking up a book, to know that it is the first in a series. It’s even worse if you pick up a book and don’t discover until you are mid way through it that it is the second or third book in a series. Now, some books don’t interconnect in such a way that this may matter. But, most series books do. I’m not sure what publishers are trying to do here. Either they are blatantly trying to fool you into buying a book that is not complete–as many first books in a series are not–or they are evidencing in one more way, that they have become sloppy and error prone.

These kinds of errors are not the kinds of behaviors we want to see from a business that claims it may be on the brink of ending. I, for one, happen to like books. Physically I mean. I don’t like reading off a screen and I don’t care that you have 1200 novels on your kindle. I have three books with me when I travel and that is usually more than enough. It is my belief that review copies will go entirely electronic in the next two years, which will spell the end of my reviewing career. I just can’t read electronic versions. Luckily, my 1200 books are on shelves where I can grab one or two whenever I need one and even if I read two a week I’ve got at least a decade’s worth sitting there.

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A Hard Day’s Knight, Simon R. Green, Ace books 978-0-441-01970-0, $25.95

The Lady of the Lake gives Excalibur to King A...

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This is the eleventh book in Simon Green’s Nightside series. John Taylor, private investigator, has just inherited the role of administrator of the Nightside. He did so by killing Walker, the previous head. The job involves keeping things in order and also dealing with anything unusual that comes up, such as the sword shaped package that was just delivered to Taylor’s door. The sword shaped package contains a sword, Excaliber to be exact, and while Taylor is not worthy to carry it, dispensation has been made for him to do so until the task is completed.

The task takes Taylor out of the Nightside and into London, the home of the Last Defenders of Camelot–the London Knights. King Arthur must be returned (first he must be found), the civil war of the elves must be stopped (before it destroys everything), and the Nightside must continue on. Taylor not only has to figure out how to find King Arthur but he has to convince everyone that he’s the guy who’s meant to do it.

Simon Green writes with a good dollop of humor, most of it dark. It keeps the plot moving and makes the story interesting. Not that a story about Excaliber, elves, and the London Knights would be uninteresting without it, but consider it like paprika, you’d know something was missing if it wasn’t there. It’s hard to keep a series going and Green has done an excellent job keeping things moving and adding new touches to the universe as he goes along. The writing is pretty crisp, the characters are fun and involved, and the story is pure entertainment.

I came to the Nightside fairly late–the series was well up and running by the time I got to it–but had no problem jumping in and catching up. Green does an excellent job of maintaining the universe but not requiring you to read every book in order to enjoy the one that’s just out. Not that he wouldn’t mind if you bought them all, just that the story does not require it. I enjoyed it, thoroughly and I look forward to the next entry in the series.
Highly recommended. A great read.

Hard Days Knight (buy it here)

Bloodshot, Cherie Priest, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0345-52060-9, 359 pgs., $15.00

Raylene Pendle is a vampire and a world-renowned thief. Go figure. She does not hang out with other vampires, until she does, because she is too busy stealing priceless art and rare jewels for clients. I guess because she has a lot of time on her

cherie_priest

Image by Cherie Priest via Flickr

hands, what with being immortal and not doing any hanging out.  And, while her heart does not beat, it is soft as she allows a couple of street urchins to inhabit the vacant warehouse she owns where she stores a lot of the stuff she steals. She’s also incredibly paranoid which explains why she has chosen a low exposure vocation like grand theft. In any case, one day the urchins who live in her warehouse notify her that there is a thief in the building. She investigates and just barely manages to

kill him. Seems the thief was a parcour aficionado and who knew that this skill was a vampire neutralizer. So, while investigating the thief and how the thief came to be in her building she also gets recruited by one Ian Stott, another vampire who asks her for help. Luckily for him, Raylene is not avoiding vampires on that day and agrees to help him retrieve missing government files related to secret biological research that was done on vampires. Before you know it, Raylene is involved with a cross dresser, hanging out in gay bars, trailing after power-hungry scientists, and trying to avoid all the government agents who, apparently, have no trouble locating her whenever they want, except when it’s not convenient to the plot.

Wait, I need to take a short break and find pry my tongue out from my cheek where it has become imbedded. There, now we can move forward.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is entertaining. It’s just got a few plot holes in it. If you can manage to ignore them then you’ll do fine. Otherwise it’s going to be a tough haul for you.

The writing is fine here. Cherie Priest does a good job of developing her character and creating an interesting story to set her in. The pacing is fairly fast and the dialogue flows in a natural way even if the character motivation is a bit suspect at times. And, unlike in the human race where people can do all kinds of things with little reason, logic or motivation when we read we expect these things to be there otherwise our ability to suspend disbelief cracks.

This is the first book of a series and it’s somewhat obvious in places that Priest is setting the stage for that to happen. Maybe you see that when you read it and maybe you don’t and maybe it bothers you and maybe it doesn’t. The bottom line here is that if you like vampires and you like female protagonists and you like urban fantasy and you like a bit of crime noir thrown in you will probably enjoy this book. I managed to get from page one to page end so that says something as nowadays I am likely to fling a book across the room after 40 or 50 pages of unsatisfying prose.

In the end you need to make these decisions on your own. You can still do that, right? Go, do, enjoy.

And, if you want to buy a copy you can use the link below.

Bloodshot

The Hollows Insider, Kim Harrison, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-197433-5, 301 pgs, $25.99

This Witch For Hire

Image by programwitch via Flickr

Kim Harrison is nine books in on her Hollows series. The books twist on Clint Eastwood movie titles and are best classified as urban supernatural fantasy since they involve witches, werewolves, vampires, pixies, elves, and other fantastical creatures living in an alternate version of Cincinnati. The series has generated a loyal following and, I have to admit, I have enjoyed the books myself, at least up to the one before the most recent (which I have not read yet). The writing is done skillfully, the characters are well developed and interesting, and the setting is uniquely enjoyable.

Now we have this book which contains new fiction, facts, maps and a plethora of tidbits large and small about the Hollows universe. You’ll find memos from the characters to each other, newspaper articles, spell recipes, cookie recipes, case files, inside dossiers, and much, much more. For those of you who just can’t get enough then this is the book for you. And there is plenty of book to be had here. It’s hefty, illustrated and chock full of stuff.

I’m always of two minds when it comes to books like these. On the one hand it’s an artifact of overindulgence. Do you really need to see memos from one character to another or fictional security reports? It’s a bit of unhealthy obsession. On the other hand it is interesting to see just how deeply authors develop their worlds and just how much material is created to put together a work of fiction.

In the end I find these more interesting than not. I don’t think I have ever read one from cover to cover but they are fine coffee table books and interesting to skim through, stopping here and there to absorb the brief tidbit of fictional fact. In the long run I find that I would rather be reading the next novel in the series though.

Definitely recommended. If you are a fan you positively, absolutely will not be able to do without this. If you are not yet a fan you might be more interested in picking up the first novel in the series. If you’d like to buy the book just click the link below.

The Hollows Insider: New fiction, facts, maps, murders, and more in the world of Rachel Morgan

Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-522511, $16.00, 461 pgs

Steampunks - models Liza James and Jared Axelr...

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Darian Frey is Captain of the Ketty Jay, an airship running the lesser ports and landings of Vardia. He and his crew all have checkered pasts–smugglers, criminals, murders, oddities–and reasons to stay away from the law, authority, and remembering. It’s a marginal living–carrying marginal cargo for marginal profit, occasional low level piracy, doing the odd job for the odd price for the odd customer–but it keeps them flying and keeps them away from the past.

Until Frey takes on what looks like a fairly simple job for a large payoff. All he has to do is ambush a ship in a desolate region of mountains and make off with the cargo. The payoff would be enough to keep him happy for the rest of his life. That he’s going to keep the payoff from his crew hardly bothers him. He figures there will be enough other plunder to keep them happy. Besides ,they’re just crew. And then it all goes horribly wrong. The ship to be ambushed has fighter protection, more and better than expected, and a shot that should have simply disabled it instead destroys it, and everyone on board. Shortly after, the Captain and crew of the Ketty Jay find themselves the most wanted individuals on the planet.

Now, Darian Frey has to use all his wits and skills, as well as those of his crew, to figure out what happened and how to get out of it. That they were set up is obvious, but the who and the why still eludes him. And it looks like the secret may lie in Retribution Falls, legendary hidden pirate town and safe refuge for all who manage to make their way there. Of course, first he has to figure out where it is and then he has to avoid getting shot out of the sky on his way there.

This book is almost classic steam punk. It’s an adventure on an unknown world where great ships ply the airways using chemical reactions and steel nerves. The characters are a hodge-podge of criminals, people caught on the wrong side of the law, circumstances gone horribly awry at the wrong time, and one or two who just have no where else to go. Essentially, the book is about two processes; figuring out the mystery of the set up and the gelling of a group of disparate individuals into a crew.

I found the book very entertaining. The universe that Chris Wooding has developed is intriguing and bigger than the book. This is a good thing. There are bits around the edges that are mentioned but never really explained which lends a credibility to the plot. The writing is sharp and to the point, the pacing is generally quick, and the characters are definitely an interesting bunch.

I recommend the book to anyone looking for a steam punk fix or just a rousing good adventure.

To get the book go here:

Retribution Falls

The Griff, a Graphic Novel, Christopher Moore and Ian Corson, William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-197752-7, $22.99

Map of USA with Florida highlighted

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So, Earth has been invaded.  Not by giant robots or by little gray men or by huge spaceships but by eggs.  Turns out the eggs contain alien dragon-like creatures that immediately go on a rampage of destruction.  They take out infrastructure of importance and lots of people.  Lots and lots of people.  Turns out our defenses don’t work because they are based on attacking things made of metal and not meat.  (I’m going to have to check on that since I’m pretty sure the heat seekers would still work and there are plenty of missiles that are still point and click and lots of things are made of ceramics or carbon fiber and can still be targeted and destroyed pretty easily by missiles).  In any case, they don’t work here and soon there is aught left but big, alien dragon like things and a few humans.  Two of the humans are Steve and Mo in New York.  Two others are Oscar and Liz in Florida.  The trick they have to figure out is how to survive in a world that is nearly destroyed and which is now ruled by serious predators. 

Then, suddenly, one of the ships crashes.  (Did I mention that the plot is a bit weak in places?)  No one really knows why, it just does, although we do sort of find out later.  The Griff (short for Hippogryph).  (I know, I know, if you follow this logic they should probably be called The Drag, but you see where that goes.)  So, Mo and Steve are in NY and meet up with Curt.  (They do meet other people but they tend not to last long as the Griff chew ’em up pretty fast.)  Off they go to Florida because they heard of the crashed ship.   (Look, I don’t make up the plot, I just report on it.)  So, in any case, off to Florida.  Along the way they meet a guy in a tank (who ends up just fading away after a few pages) and continue on until they get to Florida and meet up with Liz.  Oh yeah, Oscar gets eaten too.  Liz, it turns out, has imprinted a few of the Griff and soon they are merrily on their way to sneak into the new spaceship that has arrived, evidently to investigate how the old one crashed.

I won’t give any more away other than to say that this is a graphic novel, which  anyone over the age of twenty should recognize by the old name, comic book.  And, remember, comic books have never been the residence of solid plot or logic.  That being said, it does have pretty pictures and it is word light so you can finish it easily in one sitting and it’s pretty much a straight line from beginning to end so not that hard to follow either.  It is definitely entertaining which, if you are buying one of these I would think you are looking for.  I enjoyed it and if you consider it akin to a B movie then you will probably enjoy it too.  Assuming, of course, that you like B movies.  Hey what do you have to lose.  Well, $22 bucks, but you know that going in so use the information wisely.

I should also mention that Christopher Moore is known for his humor and this graphic novel is full of funny stuff (well funny if you are a fourteen year old boy or happen to have the brain of a fourteen year old boy).  I have two.  In their original jars.  Rarely used.

Sure, it’s easy to make mock but I’m built that way.  Which is to say graphic novels are built this way so you should go in expecting nothing less.

Click below to go to Amazon and buy.

The Griff: A Graphic Novel

The Native Star, M. K. Hobson, Bantam Spectra, ISBN 978-0-553-59265-8, 387 pgs., $7.99

Hecate, illustration by Stéphane Mallarmé, in ...

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I try to keep an open mind when it comes to books. In other words I have to remind myself not to judge a book by its cover, or blurb, or title, or author, or any of the other ways we tend to quickly decide we are not going to like something. I have to admit that often my initial thought was a correct one. But, just as often (statistically speaking a negative often and a positive often are equal just as often as not) I find myself on the other side, glad that I decided to pick up a book and move past the cover.

This time it’s kind of a mixed bag. I did finish the book, which certainly says a lot. I don’t finish books that I find are not capturing my interest. On the other hand I have to admit that my bias toward language kept kicking in. I have a harder time getting my brain wrapped around Victorian set novels than any others mostly due to language.

So, Native Star is the story (the continuing story) of local Witch Emily Edwards. Emily has plans for a better life but they go awry when an enchanted artifact falls into her hands during a zombie outbreak. More accurately the artifact falls into her hand, becoming part of her flesh. The artifact is part of the vein of mineral that generates magic in the world and it has selected, sort of, Emily, to put things aright.

Emily is joined by one Dreadnought Stanton, a Warlock from New York City who has a shady past and is more full of himself than any could imagine. Emily finds she must join this Warlock on a journey all over the country to try to figure out what is going on with her hand and to, hopefully, set things straight. Along the way they run across giant racoons, a native American holy woman, nefarious evildoers, double crossing scoundrels, and more different kinds of magic users than you could shake a magic hand at.  There’s also a bit of love going around.

By the end of the book most things are resolved although the getting there is a bit complex as Hobson has created a multi-layered world where magic operates under differing properties and there is no real agreement on what it is all about or how it should be controlled, if at all.

The story is actually a fairly straightforward quest tale and the book is a combination of romance, fantasy and historical drama. I think you would have to like at least two of those to really enjoy the book itself. In terms of craft, it is well done, consistent, well paced and different enough in setting and character to keep it interesting.

I find myself wavering in how best to recommend it and to whom. My best suggestion would be to read a few pages and see for yourself. There is already a sequel out.

If you’d like to pursue purchase, you can just click here:The Native Star–Buy Me Now!!