Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Shock of Night: Review

Willet Dura was going to be a priest. Then the war happened, and he became a soldier instead. Now he's ostensibly a noble, but he's also the king's reeve, in charge of sorting out Bunard's dirty laundry in the poor quarter.

Meanwhile an evil from abroad has crept into the city, spreading like a plague among all the different classes of Bunard's society. As reeve, Willet has to be on the scene, which puts him on an accidental collision course with an ancient, deadly secret--a secret that will change the way he sees the world.

Welcome to the world of The Darkwater Saga.

I introduced By Shock of Night briefly in my last post for the CSFF blog tour, but now it's time to do a more thorough review. Since this story is so closely tied up with its prequel novella, and since I haven't reviewed that story yet, I'm going to conflate the two books just slightly in this review--without giving any spoilers, if I can avoid that.

First of all: if you're going to read this series (and I recommend you do), start by reading the novella By Divine Right. You also don't necessarily need the novella to know what's going on in The Shock of Night, but it does help a lot to understand the cultural context for the story. Once you've read the novella, though, go ahead and skip over the first chapter or two of the novel. Those chapters show up at the end of the novella, so you won't miss anything and you'll avoid a small bit of jarring repetition.

Combined, the two books are a good story--a bit grim in places between a slew of mysterious, bloody attacks and Willet's work in the street's of the poor quarter. Carr paints a realistic setting, and fun isn't exactly the right word to describe these books, but I enjoyed them.

I'll admit, I was a little concerned at first. After reading just By Divine Right, Willet's character felt a lot like Errol Stone's character in Carr's previous series (A Cast of Stones, et al.). The two characters are a similar type--one not too different from G. A. Henty's typecast heroes if you are familiar with that author--but the similarities didn't bother me as much once the story got started. I also strongly object to the way Willet is set up to win his lady-love (even if she doesn't mind). It looks like there could be an interesting plot twist coming up with that, though, and I'm waiting to see how that plays out.

Apart from those issues, the story offers plenty of vim and excitement to balance out the negatives.

As with Carr's previous series, I loved the amount of world-building and general cultural development in this new world. There doesn't seem to be much throwaway material, just a lot of interconnecting details about the special 'gifts' and the caste system they've created, about the neighboring countries, past wars, and the overall unrest in society at court, among the merchants, and in the poor quarter where Willet Dura spends much of his time.

[Edit: In writing this post and the previous tour post at the same time, I neglected to mention in either that I received a review copy of The Shock of Night from the publisher in conjunction with the CSSF blog tour. My apologies for the oversight.]

Monday, December 7, 2015

Shock of Night: Blog Tour

Willet Dura is a sleepwalker--but only when someone has been murdered in Bunard. It's an unnerving trait, to say the least. Even that trait, though, is not nearly as unnerving as the rare (and unheard of) gift he receives from one of the murdered men.

Welcome back to another Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour!
This month, the group is featuring The Shock of Night, the first book in Patrick Carr's new Darkwater Series. I really enjoyed Carr's previous series with A Cast of Stones, The Hero's Lot, and A Draw of Kings (reviews here, here, and here), so I was excited to find out that he had another novella available, leading into this new series.

That novella, By Divine Right, sets the stage for the main story by introducing the complicated social system in Bunard. In this world, some people have special gifts or skills that set them apart from the others in their trade. The gifts can be passed down from generation to generation, and over time, they have created a caste system of haves and have-nots. The purer the gift, the greater a person's ability, and the more influence he holds, whether as a leader among the street orphans or as the king himself.

Stealing someone's gift is illegal, of course, but illegal never stops some people from trying--and that's were Willet comes in. As an assistant reeve, it's his job to notice things--like the fact that several of the most gifted have died recently without passing on their gifts to any known heir.

That's just the background to the story, though. I'm writing another post with my review for the story overall. Meanwhile, you can find The Shock Of Night on Amazon here, the free novella prequel By Divine Right here, and more information about Patrick Carr and his books here.

The other tour participants will be posting reviews and commentary through Wednesday, so be sure to check back a couple times and see what they have to say.

Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Carol Bruce Collett
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rani Grant
Rebekah Gyger
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Rebekah Loper
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Robert Treskillard
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White

[Edit: In writing this post and the other tour post at the same time, I neglected to mention in either that I received a review copy of The Shock of Night from the publisher in conjunction with the CSSF blog tour. My apologies for the oversight.]

Monday, November 23, 2015

One, Two Buckle My Shoe...

Over the summer, I've returned to a very old form of literature. It's also a very simple form of literature--in some ways.

No, it's not "See Spot run!" But that's a good guess.

I guess it's something that happen when you have a toddler in the house--you start reading books you first heard twenty (or more) years ago. It's an interesting experience. You start noticing things about the books that you never noticed as a kid.

The stories can be fairly innocuous at times.

Kids don't know much about the world yet, so it's easy to introduce them to new things. "Look! This is a strawberry. Strawberries are red. And caterpillars turn into butterflies."

Sometimes the stories make you scratch your head and ask why. Not, "Why is the world this way?" Rather, "Why? Why did anyone thing that was okay to write?"

I mean, if you were a mother bird bringing breakfast back to your just-hatched chick, and your chick started telling your about this cow and the dog and a hen and a thing called a Snort, wouldn't you start squawking bloody murder? If that happened to me, I know I'd want all the how-comes and where-fores.

I won't even get started on the stories that are all about the message--You can do it, if you try. Don't talk to strangers, or else. Don't be a greedy pig. Be nice to the kitty. It's going to be okay.

Good messages all of them (usually), but they can be overwhelming when they're rammed right down the throat of an innocent storybook.

Some of the stories are just devious.

One of the books we read recently was about a little old man who couldn't read. He could make beautiful wooden toys, but he only survives because his wife (who can read) handles the shopping...and the rest of his business, presumably.

Then she goes off on a trip and tells him what he needs to get at the store for his next few meals. As a kid, of course, I just thought this was part of the story. Trips are a normal part of life, right?

As an adult, however, I totally get it. If all she really cared about was his food, why didn't she just buy the groceries for him and leave them on the counter at home? She knew he couldn't get through the shopping trip without being able to read--she was setting him up for failure.

Then there's the entire Suess canon. I think we shall return to that topic when it's time to learn about alliteration, repetition, and rhymes.

Still, I would like to know--what if you do try the green eggs and ham...and you don't like them, even then?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back Again, Almost

Hello again!

I haven't exactly been on top of things this year. My last post was about five months ago, or 159 days if you want to be precise. At the time, my husband, toddler and I were in the UK, and we've only now gotten back to our home state. 

Craziness might be the best word to describe this summer, considering it started with over 12 hours of flying and ended with driving across the entire US--with a toddler who dislikes long car-rides no less. But we made it.

We're technically not settled yet, since we wanted to take our time about deciding where we would be living for the next couple of years. We've planned another four months in temporary lodging while we make those decisions, but for now, our longest car-ride will be under two hours to visit family.

I meant to post more and tell some of the stories from our trip, but the craziness was a bit too much for that. I have worked on a few projects over the summer, including practicing some coding and html so I can work on websites. I also worked on some outlining for one of my novels a couple of times, but that needs a lot more focus still. I'd like to make that happen in the next couple of months, possibly using NaNoWriMo as my personal Finish Writing a Novel session. We'll have to see how that goes, though...

What about you? Any goals for NaNoWriMo or just for finishing a particular project by the end of this year?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Let's Go Eat Some Courgettes?

It sounds like eating puppy dogs, right? Corgis? Baby corgis might be called courgettes, right?

Or does it mean baby cougars?

I've posted about the strangeness of language before. I've tried my hand at learning a couple of languages now, so I can claim a certain amount of experience in that area, but this time, I'm talking about the strangeness of English.

English English.

We're in the UK right now.

Like any good researcher, I studied up on things before hand. Things like supermarket ads--so that I wouldn't look like a complete idiot the first time I stepped into a store and asked where they keep their carts. (Oops, trolleys?)

I still wasn't ready, though, when someone asked if my toddler went to nursery yet.

Sorry? Nursery, as in the room they send babies to at church?

Oh, right...nursery as in pre-school.

No, he doesn't go. Probably won't go in the sense that you're thinking if we home school as planned, but I won't get into that right now, and I don't think I'd send a two year- old off for the day anyway. That probably means I'm a really strange American, but yeah, let's just move on.

While we're on the topic of cultural differences, I have yet to see a washcloth anywhere. We've stayed at three different houses and one really nice hotel (actually a castle) so far, and no one has included a washcloth with the towel and hand towel. And no, the castle was not attempting to recreate an authentic medieval atmosphere. There just aren't any washcloths here.

Cultural differences aside, though, we've enjoyed the trip. We had more than the usual jet-lag, due to traveling with a toddler who doesn't like riding in either cars, planes, trains, or buses, but once we got over that, we've been able to explore at a nice, leisurely pace.

It's the little things that stand out right now, like how most of the buildings are either brick or stone--regardless of their age. Right now, we're very close to James Herriot's place, so we're surrounded by sheep farms. You should try following an unmarked public footpath through sheep-infested pastures sometime--that alone would be enough adventure to keep anyone happy. Plus the tea. We've even had tea with breakfast here.

Oh, and courgettes? You might know them better as zucchini.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Storm Siren: Review

Slave girl + political star might seem an unlikely combination, but it's a combination Nym is stuck with. She's the slave girl, of course, and the political star is her owner Adora, who wants to hide Nym in the shadows of her brilliant entourage.

Adora also wants to turn Nym into her pet WMD, which might work if Nym cooperates--and if Nym doesn't turn deadly too soon.

18806259Welcome back to the second day of the CSFF tour for Mary Weber's Storm Siren. As always, you can find a lot of other people talking about this book at the tour's headquarters over here. Or, you can stick around and read my review right here!

First off, I was very excited to discover that this new fantasy author might soon become a favorite. (I'm waiting for the rest of the series, just to make sure.) Storm Siren has a lot of the elements that I like in fantasy--a mostly medieval setting, though with a fun steam-punk twist; vivid magical powers that bring both thrills and devastation; and an important legend woven into the story. Especially the legend...

Some fantasy gets away without have too much history in its world, while other fantasy gets bogged down. I won't go into much detail, but a huge part of why I loved this story was a certain legend introduced early in the novel. The legend, originally retold in a song, actually becomes important to the main story, instead of yet-another throw-away Tolkien/fantasy must-have-a-poem-in-the-story 'trappings.' So for me, the story gets a lot bonus points for both world-building and plot-development.

And for characters, there is Nym herself. Temperamental might describe her just as much as Elemental.

On that note, Storm Siren probably isn't the best choice for readers who like instant action or squeaky-clean stories. The story starts out slow--Nym spends the first half of the book getting oriented. It's partly the plot, which requires lots of political posturing and scheming to get the story going. It's also partly the writing, since Nym inserts a drama-queen attitude into the narration. She's got a lot of drama to be emotional about, given the way she's treated. At times, it's good drama. In her more emotional scenes, though, the attitude feels overwrought and repetitive.

After getting into the story, I mostly forgot the slow start, and Weber used Nym's past to develop some big issues like self-harm. (These particular parts do mean the book is better suited for an older-teen, mature audience.) Nym's past isn't pretty, but it felt real. On the other hand, her narrative interjections weren't always pretty either and in place, they got in the way of the story's flow. I still connected to her and the characters, but the emotional "telling" weakened the story's visceral punch.

Oh, and there is a sort-of romance running through all the political drama. Some readers believe there is also a love triangle, but I never really saw that in the story, at least reading it from Nym's perspective.

All that aside, I enjoyed the story, not to mention the cliff-hanger at the very end. Here again I differ from certain other readers, since some at least seem to assume bad things about the next book, based on this book's ending. I refuse to believe that particular train of thought, though, until I see more proof. I do believe there are plenty of bad things in store for Nym, but I'm hopeful that they will be the wonderful sorts of bad things that lead to another satisfying novel.

[My thanks to Thomas Nelson, Storm Siren's publisher, for providing me with a review copy in conjunction with this blog tour.]

Monday, April 13, 2015

Storm Siren: Blog Tour


Imagine a female Zeus--that is, imagine someone who is both illegal and downright impossible.

Curious how that works? Welcome back for the April Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Tour. This month, we've been reading a book by a new author, the first in a series.

Storm Siren, by Mary Weber, introduces Nym, an unusual slave girl. Nym has had an unheard-of fourteen owners in the course of her young life. Given how she's destroyed all her previous owners, no one should want her now, but apparently someone does. Nym, after all, could make a powerful weapon in the nation's defense against one of it's oldest enemies. Of course, the idea could be a wee bit dangerous, considering that Nym has no idea how to control her own abilities, especially when people start getting on her nerves.

18806259I rather liked this story, and I'll give you a longer review tomorrow, but for now, feel free to check out some posts by the other tour participants.

Enjoy the tour!

Julie Bihn
Lauren Bombardier
Beckie Burnham
Vicky DealSharingAunt
George Duncan
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Simone Lilly-Egerter
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Jalynn Patterson
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Michelle R. Wood

*Storm Siren - on Amazon
Author Website - http://www.maryweber.com/

[My thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of Storm Siren in conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour.]

Friday, March 27, 2015

How A Star Falls: Review

What happens if you find a young woman who claims to be a starnot a Hollywood star, but a real star, stranded on your little corner of the California beach?
She turns your world upside down, to start with.

Of course, Derrick doesn't really believe Brielle's story, when she claims to be a star. That doesn't matter, though, because she's ready to turn his world upside anyway.

It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned any of Amber Stoke’s novels, and I'm about two months late reviewing this one, but that's my fault, not Amber's. I thoroughly enjoyed How a Star Falls—no hesitations, no reservations.

How a Star Falls is a contemporary romance novella. It's a bit shorter than you might expect, just a snippet of a story if you're used to full-length novels, but that's a good thing actually. It's enough to tell this story without any extra fluff. Just boy meets girl, with lots of beauty shining through the characters and the writing.

There's not a whole lot more to say. As a fan of speculative fiction, I was hoping just a little for the story to play out along those lines, but I still really liked how Derrick and Brielle interact and push each other to grow beyond the little bubbles they live in. If you like romance, I'd recommend you check this one out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Goat With an Attitude?

I saw this guy at the zoo yesterday. What do you think? Is he just enjoying the sun, or is he a character waiting for a story?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Emissary: Review

What if, after growing up in a remote farming village, you suddenly discovered that you didn’t belong there? What if you learned that you could wield incredible power? What if the power you wield hints that you belong to an accursed race of people, exiled, destroyed, and nearly forgotten?

Welcome back, and welcome to the new year!
I’m starting off 2015 with a review for the first book in a new fantasy series. It’s written under a new nom de plume, but by an author who is an old favorite. Emissary is Davis Bunn’s foray into epic fantasy, writing under the name Thomas Locke. Thomas Locke is a pseudonym created by Bunn as part of his efforts to branch out into fantasy from his usual adventure/thriller novels.

In Emissary, Hyam is an outcast farm-boy with an unusual knack for learning a particular dead language and a grudge against the mages who dragged him away from his favorite study and forced him to learn Elvish instead. Of course, for ordinary people, neither language is any good, since the mysterious races who once spoke them are long vanished.

Outside of Hyam’s village, however, dark powers have instigated revolution and devastation across the country. A series of attacks force Hyam out of his village and bring him together with two other misfits. Together, they gather the first of a resistance. Along the way, Hyam learns a lot about the world.

To be honest, I had some small issues with the book—there’s a lot of world-building in the introduction. Locke spends a fair bit of time introducing his character and explaining the backstory. You need the info to understand what’s going on, but the best suggestion I have is to skim through it and wait for things to pick up after a few chapters. Along with that, the story follows a pretty typical fantasy scenario—young man of unknown, mysterious heritage, just coming of age with an onslaught of highly unusual powers.

Some fantasy stories veer toward inner conflict as the protagonist learns to understand and use his powers, but Emissary takes a different approach. The story doesn’t lack for conflict, but Hyam does feel at times improbably competent for someone who grew up in a hick village. Once he meets his first challenge, he moves almost at once from farm-boy to leader. After that, one or two miscreants get in his way, but otherwise people seem to cooperate with him. They have good reason to—given the power that he controls—and presumably he learned a thing or two during his education with the mages.

As far as the rest of the cast goes, a young woman named Joelle adds some spunk to the cast, and she in turn is balanced out by Hyam’s other sidekick—an old mage at odds with most of his community. I liked both characters well enough and thought they added depth to the story with both fun and tragedy.

More importantly, apart from a few lurches along the way, the story does rise to an intense, earth-shaking climax. There are lots of theatrics thrown in, but the heart of the story comes down to Hyam’s power and how he uses.

If you are interested in the book, you can read several chapters of it for free from Amazon, as the short-story The Captive. You might also like to check out this post on Thomas Locke's blog with a series of Q & A links.

[My thanks to Net Galley and Revell for sending me an electronic ARC copy of Emissary in exchange for my honest opinion of the book.]