Review of A Dragon Problem by Rick Rossing

A Dragon Problem: The Dragons of Phelios, Book IA 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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Review of Aqua by Tracy Korn

Aqua: Book One (The Elements Series)Aqua: Book One by Tracy Korn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thumbnail: a solid, engagingly written entry into the YA dystopian arena, well worth a look.

Aqua has the feel of the best Heinlein juveniles, where personal courage, teamwork, and science win the day. It has interesting scientific and societal underpinnings, and action-driven plot, and a cast of liable and hate-able characters. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh new SF voice or a series that promotes a positive outlook towards science and problem-solving the way to a better future.

The descriptions are sharp, the world is intriguing, the protagonist is brave and bold but not perfect, and the supporting cast fall into easily recognized archetypes without hitting any big red stereotype buttons. Formatting concerns and some discomfort with the premise prevent me giving it four stars. I enjoyed the character interplay enough for 3.5 stars, which would round up to 4, but presentation affects my enjoyment. The layout had serious issues, and as the plot advanced, the science got murky and puzzling.

I read Aqua soon after the ebook was released on Amazon, so there’s hope the formatting has  already been addressed, but I can only review what I saw. And the scientific development issues aren’t going to bug most people as much as they did me. In books I prefer either full hard explanation or hand-wavy acceptance, and this one fell in the gap between.

There are lots of explanations, and certain technologies are critical to plot, but..well. To avoid throwing spoilers in the mix, I’ll say only that some advances were so far ahead of others that it felt like the implications either not considered, or not explained away enough to help me dismiss them. That might seem minor, but it jars me out of the narrative when I can immediately see applications for something that would totally change the society that came up with it.

Entertainment mileage will likely vary based on reader tolerance for (1) formatting oddities like random changes in line spacing and paragraph structure and (2) cinematic presentation of science in their science fiction. Last but not least: cliffhanger alert.

In summation: I liked Aqua, I can recommend it to certain audiences (and I will grab the next one because I’m hooked) but it didn’t fully satisfy me as much as I think future books by the writer will.

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Review: The Evolutionite Chronicles Book One: Dagger and Shadow Ninja

Review: The Evolutionite Chronicles Book One: Dagger and Shadow Ninja

This one gets three stars of five — a wholly respectable rating — and a big shake of salt. This is tasty, satisfying, squeak-between the teeth popcorn reading. It won’t stick with you, but it’s fun down to the last twist, like a matinee B movie. If you like traditional superheroes strutting their stuff in a four-color plot full of well-planned twists and turns, then pick this one up. You can’t get a movie ticket and kid’s popcorn for this price. Settle in for the show and start snacking. You’ll get a bag full of clever descriptions that waste no time on flowery language, plenty of sassy dialogue, broadly-drawn characters, and big sweeping ideas.
You won’t find groundbreaking originality here, any more than you will when watching the average Hollywood blockbuster. You get a couple of solid, entertaining  heroes with colorful pasts, a rogue’s gallery of friends and enemies, and a great rapport with each other. You get a plot that takes you in one direction and then another, and another with as many jinks and twists as a roller coaster ride. You get a satisfying wrap up and a good launch right into the next plot. (Pause for grinding of teeth and muttered imprecations re: cliffhangers.)

I’m not going to sugarcoat things, because I’m not a fan of sweet popcorn, so I’ll say up front that it’s a lot like a B movie or a roller coaster in some of the not-so-great ways too. Some sentences set my teeth on edge, either through creaky construction, a painful scarcity of commas, or stray semi-colons popping up in odd places. Some of the dialogue was so sparsely tagged that it was hard to parse. Who was speaking. Can they please, please just speak, not huff, or smile, or turn their heads, or interrupt.  Some of the action sequences had me going back for a second and third read because I just couldn’t suss out who was where doing what to whom. So to speak.

I watched Sharknado. On purpose. Twice. What’s my point? That I don’t require perfection from my fun times. I don’t even need the dialogue to be snappy or the plot to make sense. This book made me smile, it made me sit up and say, “Ooo, clever!” and I was rooting for the characters from start to finish.

 I prefer my reading to have a little more polish, but to mix my metaphors horribly, this rock is shiny enough to keep in my collection, and I’ll be looking for more like it.  Want a closer look for yourself?  Find it on Amazon: Evolutionite Chronicles Book One Dagger & Shadow Ninja