Authoring Book reviews

Review: Storm Grey by Sarah Jane Avory

Goodreads Blurb:
Briley the witch and Smokey are back!
Beware of the grey…
A storm is coming, threatening to bring death and destruction to the village of Maepole. Ghroda the forest spirit knows it, and young witch Briley has witnessed its terrifying effects during a vision.
Fraught with worry and unable to convince the villagers, only her talking cat Smokey and the new man in her life Jorin believes her.
But for whatever reason, Ghroda is not concerned about the storm, gives Briley a stark warning:
Beware of the grey… it comes for you…
At first Briley is confused and bewildered.
Until a group of strange warriors from the far north arrive at the village, all heavily armed, all dressed in grey…

The Briley Witch Chronicles series is up to book 6, I think.  I liked the first well enough to give this second one a try. I liked this one too. Smokey the cat is a hoot, I always enjoy a good coming-of-age journey, and it’s an intriguing premise/world.  The writing is designed to be accessible to younger YA readers, well  under the complexity of what I’ve been absorbing lately, so it zipped by incredibly fast. I probably would’ve finished it in a couple of hours if not for a number of issues that jarred me out of the narrative.

I hit a certain threshold of “I’m loving this, but…”  so it goes to a 2.5 on my personal scale and a 3 for Goodreads and Amazon.

But many of my issues are matters of personal preference. The presentation is heavy on exposition and low on explanation; mileage varies a lot on that point alone.

I craved more depth on the background of almost everything. I’m an immersion reader. I love being dumped into an existing setting, but I prefer to know why and how that setting works, not just what it is. I kept being bobbed back to the surfaces of the story’s whats. Things and people were the way they were, with no reasons or history detail sprinkled in to explain them. Why were particular people are trusted or not? Because. Why people are allowed privileges and others are not? Because. Why is the tech level is where it is, and exactly how did systems (economic, social etc)  develop? No idea. That’s where I would’ve loved more exposition. The world is clearly rich, but I felt stuck on the outside of the bubble.

And I know the protagonist is a teen and impulsive, but I got some reader whiplash from her lightning-fast mood changes and continual acting out with the barest of justifications.  I’m not a stickler for the “don’t tell, always show” principle, because after all, it’s called storytelling. BUT. I kept being thrown by people behaving in certain ways, because I was told they believed one thing but they then acted against those beliefs. Other people really like getting full rundowns on characters’ emotional states at all times.

Bottom line: I would say,  trust your first reaction to the Look Inside. It’s a really good story with some excellent twists & turns, plus extra bonus points for some great snappy dialogue. Other elements fall hard into the Your Mileage May Vary category, but the indicators of what those are is pretty clear right from the first chapter.



Thinky Thoughts

Why I Don’t Know What You Know
(with apologies to Theodore Geisel)

I do not know you’ve read my books.
I do not know you’ve liked them.
Even if you’ve told me so.
Even if you’ve bought them.
Even if you’ve left a review of one. Or two. Or more.
I do not know.

If you made an offhand remark,
I dismissed it as politeness.
If you said it clearly and categorically, I heard.
But I forgot.
Most likely you mentioned it once.
So you thought I always knew.
But I do not.
Happy news withers fastest.

I seldom speak of books and writing.
I change the subject quickly.
Do I seem aloof?
Do I spurn your advances?
It’s self-defense.
Never dream I don’t care.
I do.
I care too much. And so I lock it all away.

Creation is an act of fearsome courage and exhausting effort.
Art draws on powers of anger, joy, and passion.
Disinterest bleeds passion dry.
Disdain murders joy.
Apathy kills courage.

I need my strengths, so I protect my heart by holding it apart.
I keep it safely distant.
It’s safe there.
But I cannot always see that far.
So I do not know .

Sorry for getting all doggerel poetic there, but I thought I maybe should explain it somehow, and that’s how things came out.

I don’t presume to speak for others, but for me, this is how the gig works. Unless you definitively and regularly mention that you read my words and use individually-wrapped examples to detail the particulars of what you do or do not like, then I have no idea you’re one of my readers. It doesn’t stick on the outside where I will remember it.

I am not asking, demanding or expecting anyone to talk about my writing. Ever. I’m simply explaining why, if you do,  I seem startled or unappreciative. Please, please please do not be insulted. (especially if you’ve told me a hundred times already that you liked something.)

I do try. Please understand that. But I won’t always know.

To keep the bad poetry company,  here’s a short essay.

Why You Don’t Know What I Know.

My stories are my life. I breathe, eat, drink, and dream the work of creating and selling the adventures of imaginary people. Their unreality and my reality overlap and intermingle in ways that are difficult to balance. Fiction informs and invades all that I do. It is often all I have to offer in polite conversation, and it doesn’t play well with others.

At the foundation of my happiness is a oiled, muscular monster of ideas so powerful and inexorable it cannot be contained within the fragile confines of social courtesies.
It I let it loose, or if someone else cracks open its Pandora-style emotional container with an ill-considered question like “What are you working on?” it takes flight.

And then it knocks over the lampshades, dances on the tables and sings loudly. It corners people and talks them to death about matters of deadly dullness. I become That Bore Everyone Wants To Escape. (It’s okay. No need for denials. We’re all friends here.)

I’m not expecting people to brave that dire consequence. I don’t expect people to care about my passions the way I do.  No one else could care as much about my unreality as I do.

That’s why I’ve adopted a strategy I call Deflecting the Awkward Social Pause ™  If you write too, you may know these:
“How’s the writing going?”
“It’s coming along.”
<Awkward Pause!>
This is the point where my lid starts rattling. One tiny expression of interest, and I will explode with dull details and inelegant enthusiasm. More often I’ll get one of the fifteen red-flag comments (hey, another blog post there, woo!) that remind me, this is only a social encounter. No one wants to listen to you.
And so I engage in a clever deflection like, “So, what do you think about the weather?”

The phrase starving artist applies to more than finances. This artist starves for affirmation, attention, validation, inclusion, connection. Passion consumes. Art devours. I inhale inspiration from every positive bit of feedback. Hungry glutton that I am, I feed my ego on every tiny crumb of interest that falls my way, and I become drunk on the weakest and thinnest of compliments.

And no one likes a sloppy drunk who eats all the Cheetos.

That is why I seldom talk about my writing, even when politely encouraged.

Book reviews

Review of A Dragon Problem by Rick Rossing

A Dragon Problem: The Dragons of Phelios, Book I by Rick Rossing

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fun book, and reading it whiled away a pleasant afternoon. I recommend it to people who love a good portal fantasy the way I do, and I’m following on Amazon so I can grab the next in the series as soon as it comes out.

The author has a clean, straightforward storytelling style, and the first-person point-of-view in this book brings out the best in it. The setting is a basic fantasy world (magic, dragons, semi-feudal societies warring over territory and power) Nothing notably twisty or shockingly original, but all perfectly enjoyable. The story is YA-friendly with a romantic pairing that never goes behind closed doors.

I would put 3.25 stars if Goodreads would allow fractions.

You may well ask, why the compliments but not more stars? Because I am a mean and horrible person. No, wait, that isn’t it. Because I am a literary snob? Bwahahahahaha. no. I like all kinds of books in all genres, and I enjoy a wide variety of writing styles and levels of complexity.

I am an avid reader, however, with a lot more books in my brain than my Goodreads profile indicates. (I am also lazy, and rating hundreds of extensive bibliographies holds no appeal.) My experience does influence my evaluation.

A book has to have something special to even catch my eye these days, and I don’t start from five stars and subtract. Like a figure skating judge, I start at zero, and a book has to earn my interest and respect one character, one trope, one plot twist at a time. “I liked it” describes my satisfaction level for a lot of good books.

I would put 3.25 stars if Goodreads allowed halvsies, but not more. This one hit some personal buttons about character depth, convenient coincidences, and plot-driven motives (the romantic sub-plot especially) The writing and ideas are good enough I wish there was more than the basics, and that’s where the .25 comes in. But when there’s no one in the book for me to relate to, then it won’t ever get more from me.

Nothing red-flagged;  it’s just a lot of the usual: strong woman warrior who conveniently still needs rescue and of course falls in love with the male hero, everyone trusts the outsider hero because a wise elder gives the seal of approval, modern dude comes in and unites the natives who can’t fight the evil themselves until he points the way…

There’s a reason these are popular tropes. They’re satisfying and fulfilling for many people. I don’t happen to be one of them. I’m bored when the only characters who share my gender in an adventure tale are sidelined and/or treated as a prize–and the stereotyped romantic dialogue made me roll my eyes. Plenty of lip service is paid to the strength and importance of the female protagonist, but in the final analysis, everything she does and says is aimed at helping the hero and serves to make him look good. Yawn.

So. Read the “Look Inside,” and if the main character makes you smile, then grab this one up and enjoy the adventures.

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Book reviews

Review: All From Dreams by Bethanie F. Devors

All From Dreams: Book One: The Seodrassian Chronicles by Bethanie F. DeVors
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, rounds up.
This is a nice, filling read. It satisfied like a good basic pizza satisfies: warm, packed with familiar flavors and cooked to a nice golden brown. The descriptions are lush without being wordy, the dialogue is snappy, and the characters are memorable, fun, interesting, people I enjoyed getting to know. I want to see them again, and I will be buying the sequel when I get word that it’s available for pre-order. Neither formatting nor grammar errors ever threw me out of the plot, and that’s worth mentioning. So I have.

More positives: I could relate to the protagonist’s emotions; I liked the fish-out-of-water premise of a tech-savvy modern woman dropped into fantasy setting premise; (I am on a serious portal fantasy kick, yes. I am not ashamed.) I enjoyed the fantasy setting on the far side of the portal; and I appreciated the way the romantic elements were woven into the progression of the plot without being forced. The magic system is consistent and not over-powering, and the difficult trick of presenting information through dreams and prophecy worked well too.

Negatives? No, really not. Nothing jumped out at me. It’s a pizza. Familiar is good, and I’m a grumpy old lady who loves pizza. In summary, it’s good stuff, and well worth a nibble. Give it a try.

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Or heck, just click the link to look inside & purchase:
Book reviews

Review: Daughter of Mythos by Melissa Drake

This one gets 3 stars out of 5. A nice, clean “I liked it.”

Daughter of Mythos provides  a good, tasty meat & potatoes secret-destiny/portal fiction story with a nice twist near the end. The main character is relatable and sympathetic, the supporting cast provide plenty of intrigue, support and challenges, and the fantasy elements are introduced with just enough exposition to make the history feel real and the internal logic reasonable. 

I often wait a bit before I review a book. I like to give the newness a little time to settle, to allow my impressions to solidify or change, and most of all to see if something that bugs me keeps bugging me after the specifics blur. I read this back in the autumn of 2014, but I needed to re-read it before reviewing because I didn’t recall the details well enough to discuss them knowledgeably. That is as much a strength as a weakness. I read a LOT of fantasy, so much that the irritants are usually what stay with me. I wanted to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything bad about this book, and I hadn’t. The second read was as enjoyable as the first.

Daughter of Mythos aims to be a really fun curl-up-with-a-good-read adventure story, and it hits that spot just right. It isn’t groundbreaking, it isn’t life-changing, it doesn’t use lots of new spices or herbs or throw any exotic flavors at me. (figuratively speaking) It fulfills all its promises and more. 

 It satisfied my craving for characters who face trials and make hard choices, it gave me a fun fantasy ride and an interesting world to visit.

In a word, it was tasty. 

Go have a nibble for yourself. Link to purchase: Daughter of Mythos

Melissa Drake’s Amazon page (follow to stay updated on sequels)