Archive for the ‘book reviews’ Tag

Book Review: Cruce de Caminos, by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane – 4 stars   Leave a comment

Long time no talk. Sorry about that. I’m afraid I’ve been busy editing and working on promoting my upcoming romance novella. I did, however, finally make time to read Cruce de Caminos, by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane. This writing duo is fast becoming a favorite amongst new authors I read. Not only do they write well, they have a new and interesting take on any story they tell, and Cruce de Caminos is no exception.

For those who don’t speak Spanish, “cruce de caminos” translates as “crossroads,” and the central character, Sean O’Hara, is definitely at a crossroads in his life. He’s a teenager living on the streets who no longer knows how to handle life without being high. He’s just lost his girlfriend, all his worldly possessions, and what might have been his last shreds of dignity. He has a choice to make, between improving his life or continuing along a path that only ends when he hits rock bottom.

But crossroads aren’t just places of choice and opportunity. They’re also magical places, places where different faiths and folklores say you can meet beings not entirely of this world. Sean’s life is about to take a turn for the darkly fantastic.

The story’s setting is rich and compelling, and the characterization is gorgeous. Sean isn’t the cardboard cutout of a teenage junkie it would be so easy to fall back on, he’s a real person in desperate circumstances, with all the virtues and flaws that are part of that package. The inscrutable Ángel is a mystery man, and he generates all the otherworldly tension a reader could want. The battles Sean is fighting may be mostly with himself, but they’re realistic despite the fantasy elements of the story–the kind of conflict that keeps you turning pages.

I also love that the authors went to some lengths to draw on folklore that hasn’t been done to death as the basis of their fantasy elements. We see a lot of European-descended folklore in modern fantasy and paranormal stories. When we do see something else, it’s often poorly researched or trivialized. The Voudon elements in Cruce de Caminos are neither.

I only have one real complaint about the story: it felt like it needed to be either longer or shorter. The pacing is structured one way through most of the story and then changes just prior to the climax. Summarizing a couple of scenes about 2/3 of the way through would have improved the tension in the last third of the story. Alternately, a couple of incidents which are summarized could have been extended, taking Sean on a more meandering road to the climax and dénouement and injecting a few more minor conflicts along the way to keep us interested.

Overall, I highly recommend this read. At just under 16,000 words, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon. Let’s call it four stars.

You can get Cruce de Caminos direct from the publisher, or from major e-book sellers like Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com.

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Posted July 20, 2012 by April L'Orange in Uncategorized

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Book Review: Trace, by Sam Starbuck – 4.5 stars   Leave a comment

I’ve tried half a dozen times to come up with a different way of introducing Trace, by Sam Starbuck. I give up. It’s like White Collar meets Bless Me Ultima, and if that’s not quirky enough to catch your attention, I don’t know what is.

Trace is the story of Colin Byrne, an ex-felon who can’t be seen when he doesn’t want to be. He’s about to go undercover to help track down a money-laundering operation running through Railburg State Correctional Facility. But prison changes people in ways they could never have imagined, and once back inside, Colin finds himself thrust deeply back into the world of prison magic. The prisoners say that the magic comes when you need it, and boy, is he going to need it.

The thing I found most fascinating about this book is the way that a very harsh, gritty reality meets seamlessly with the intrusion of quiet–but not necessarily small–magics. The author brings the world inside Railburg to life with strong descriptions and a subtle touch. The prose is easy to lose yourself in, and the characters are compelling. Together, these elements build a world where a man can read your fortune by looking you in the eye and childhood stories can kill, and as a reader, you’ll believe that world every step of the way.

The only thing keeping me from giving this the full five stars is a subplot that lacked a little closure for me. Given the complexity of the story, this is a minor flaw, but I did want to understand the woman who watches Colin, and at the end of it, my guesses were still just that: guesses. It’s not the kind of flaw that keeps a good book from being a great book. It’s the kind of flaw that keeps a great book from being phenomenal. Let’s call it 4.5 stars.

Trace is the exception to the rule that self-published books are self-published because they didn’t cut it for professional publication. It’s available not only in ePub and dead tree formats, but also as a free PDF, for those who want a taste that shows the writer actually knows what he’s doing. If you read and like the free PDF, though, consider paying $3 for the ePub. Writers need to eat.

Posted April 24, 2012 by April L'Orange in Uncategorized

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A moment of “Wow!”   2 comments

I just read “Clotho” in Orbital Hearts. I know it’s a story that didn’t work well for at least one of the reviewers, but I finished it and had one of those moments where my jaw dropped in amazement. I’ll write up a better review when I’ve finished the whole anthology. But for the people who doubt that short stories are simply a more subjective form than novels, this one is absolutely a case that proves the rule. Wow.

Posted February 23, 2012 by April L'Orange in Uncategorized

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Feminist Science Fiction Recommendation   Leave a comment

Okay, so it’s not exactly a book review. Nonetheless, read this and pass it on! “ILU-486” is brilliant near-future short SF by Amanda Ching, sprung from spectre of VA’s medical rape legislation.

Somebody’s called it “The Handmaid’s Tail 2012,” and the description is apt. It’s the best kind of near-future science fiction: radical enough to fascinate us and believable enough to scare us.

It’s short. It’s free. So if you like it, tell the writer. Even better, tell somebody else.

Book Review: WTF?! – 5 stars   3 comments

I hesitate to give any anthology I have a story in five stars, because I’m afraid no one will believe me. But I really did love this one. *g* If you feel like you’re interested after reading the review, you can go to my Publications page and use any of the bookseller links to pick up a copy.

WTF?!‘s main aesthetic is the surreal. It’s not going to work for everyone, but if you like surrealism, slipstream, magic realism, or genre-breakers, you’ll probably like this book. From aliens to intestinal issues and from childhood myths to dystopias, each sub-category in the book contains two or three stories, making it easy to find the ones that are right up your alley.

I find that short stories are remarkably personal, by which I mean a well-written story may just not “work” for a particular person, while they may find something with an imperfect ending or dubious central conceit a hilarious and enjoyable romp. With that in mind, rather than try to touch on every story in the book (there are thirty-seven of them!), I’d rather talk about some of the stories that worked best for me and the ones that I think are most likely to interest a broad spectrum of readers.

“Sex, Drugs, and Rachmaninoff,” by Adrian Stumpp, leads the collection, and that was about my only objection to it. The writing is fantastic, a vivid and gritty word painting that sucked me in immediately. The characters are well-drawn, and it was easy to care about them. It’s definitely a story that sucked me in, but because it’s the lead story, I wasn’t prepared for the non-traditional ending. I was confused and disappointed . . . until I had read three or four stories farther into the book and understood the aesthetic. Going back and rereading it without the expectation of a traditional ending, I enjoyed it greatly.

“The Squirms,” by Brandon Cracraft, worried me at first. The writing was good and the protagonists were likable, but there were a couple of stereotypes I found very offputting. If you pick up this book, don’t let that impression stop you from reading the story! They may look like stereotypes, but they’re actually character portrayals that are integral to the story. And what a story! It’s got a strong narrative arc and a fantastic ending that made me giggle in a very dark way.

“Bust,” by Curtis James McConnell, won’t make any sense to you unless you’re familiar with Greek mythology and philosophy, some of it a bit on the obscure side. I found the storytelling style engaging and the ending quietly beautiful. With that said, if you don’t “get” the central conceit of the story, you may reach the end and find yourself wondering what you just read.

On the other hand, almost everyone reading this book will be familiar with the mythology in “Mr. Claus,” by James S. Dorr. This one just knocked it out of the park for me. The characterization fed into the subtle understanding of what had really happened to Bishop Nicholas, so that by the time I reached the strong finish, it had gone delightfully creepy.

“Women Are Decoration,” by John Harrower, is another story where I was initially concerned about some of the stereotyping, but the stereotyping turned out to be the point. The central metaphor is carried out beautifully, and if I say anything more about this one, I might take away from its impact. Just read it.

“Neighbors: a Definitive Odyssey,” by KJ Kabza, is just brilliant. It took me just a little while to catch on to the setting and the characters, but all the clues were there and everything fell into place right on schedule. It’s a quest story with all the appropriate challenges along the way and a fulfilling ending. And really, you should read it just to meet Smashed. *g*

“Flexible,” by Karl Bunker, is one of those delightful magic realism stories which is so thoroughly grounded, it takes a while to notice when it’s gone over into fantastic. The narrative arc is good and the ending might be just a trifle heavy-handed, but it still works, and it’s highly, highly amusing.

And “The Matador,” by A. A. Garrison, wins the “this really ought to be a comic book” award for the anthology. It’s fascinating, and by the end of the story, I still wasn’t sure I really understood much of what was going on, despite the very definite closure of the narrative arc. But the prose is beautiful and the characters are brilliantly larger-than-life. I really wanted to see the whole thing drawn in the kind of lurid color that would really do it justice.

Posted January 5, 2012 by April L'Orange in Uncategorized

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Book Review: The Slipstream Con, by S. Reesa Herberth and Michelle Moore   3 comments

This is a book I never would have picked up on my own, because I’m a science fiction nut and it’s a romance–and while I certainly can read well-written romances, I almost always have something waiting that I’m more interested in. But a friend pointed it out to me, and I read the description and went, “Interstellar empire? Bounty hunters? Nanotechnology? You can’t fool me, this is space opera!”

And it is. And it is awesome.

The Slipstream Con, by S. Reesa Herberth and Michelle Moore, tells the story of Kellen Frey, a charming con man who may have been chasing a pair of bounty hunters just as much as they’ve been chasing him–if at a slightly greater distance. When he suddenly turns himself in, Vanya and Tal know something fishy has got to be going on, and they’re right. The characterization is strong, the the fictional empire well-realized, and the dangerous mystery that begins on page one carries the plot clear through to the end, developing new twists and turns every time you think the protagonists have got the problem licked.

The writing is strong and the editing reasonably good. There might be a few spots where there could be just a little more foreshadowing or just a little tightening of the core plot, but they were never enough to interfere with my enjoyment of the book, and I have fairly high standards. The only thing I can really pick on is that an in-depth grasp of nanotechnology was just a little lacking, but it was such a minor detail that only geeks like me are ever going to notice. It doesn’t stop me from giving this novel the whole five stars.

If hard science fiction is your thing, this isn’t it. But if you like character-driven space opera, adventure stories that are mostly about people, or well-written romances, go read the excerpt.

As always, if you decide to buy, consider buying directly through the publisher’s site. The price is only $5.50, and it’s well worth it. Buying directly from the publisher puts a little more money into the pockets of the writers than if you buy it through one of the the online mega-bookstores.

Posted December 2, 2011 by April L'Orange in Uncategorized

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Book Review: Under the Amoral Bridge, by Gary A. Ballard   Leave a comment

I’ve been slowly working my way through a number of different free e-books offered through Barnes & Noble (nearly all of them are also offered through Amazon and other bookstores as well, I just happen to have a Nook). In my perusal of freebies, it has become clear to me that nearly all of them fall into one of three categories:

1) A free short story designed to get you interested in a longer book for sale.

2) The first novel in a trilogy or series. Again, this is designed to suck you in and get you to buy the rest of the series.

3) A free self-published story or novel. Often, this is something the author would really rather sell, but is not having much success with, so they reprice it as a freebie for some period of time to get reviews and good word-of-mouth going.

Unfortunately, most of what’s in categories 2 and 3 is crap. I wish I could tell you otherwise. The style may be unreadable, the editing may be nonexistent, the plot may lack tension, the characterization may be terrible, the writer may have an inflated sense of his/her own ability, or it may just plain suck for some other reason.

There are occasional brilliant exceptions. Under the Amoral Bridge, by Gary A. Ballard, is one such. Originally published as an online serial in a promotional blog, the novel is set in cyberpunk Los Angeles in the late 2020s. Artemis Bridge takes his name from his job–he’s the guy that knows a guy. He doesn’t touch anything dirty with his own hands, but he’ll hook you up with someone who can do it. As one of the minor characters complains in the book, “*I* have a douchebag detector. Artie’s is broken.”

The story revolves around a bit of information too hot to handle falling into Bridge’s hands . . . and then he can’t get rid of it. Ballard’s cyberpunk future is convincing, being near-term enough that we can imagine how it evolved from present-day conditions. At the same time, it contains cyberpunk staples such as computers you plug directly into your brain, cybernetic body parts, and neo-imperialism at its finest (in which corporate entities have begun to take the place of governments). The characters are engaging–the minor characters sometimes more so than Bridge. Which doesn’t mean he’s unlikable, for all the moral grey area of his job. Rather, Bridge doesn’t think he’s anybody special, but he’s surrounded by these fascinating minor characters who see something in him that he doesn’t see himself.

The book has a reasonably engaging plot and effective pacing, though both could be just a little sharper. More than that, it does exactly what it was designed to do, according to the author: it creates a world and a situation I want to know more about. The line between the Haves and the Have-Nots has continued to grow, creating a sociopolitical disaster that does not ignore economics, racial tensions, or the continued impact of the Internet on everyday life. My understanding is that the writer is trying to sell another series of books set in the same world, and I wish him the greatest success, because I’d sure like to read them.

Under the Amoral Bridge does suffer from some of the sins first novels often do, lacking just a little polish that will come with time. It also has a minor case of needs-a-better-editor, to the tune of the occasional punctuation or grammar thing that will bug the heck out of pedants like me, and which most people will never notice. With that said, although I noticed those errors, they weren’t enough to stop me from reading–and my tolerance is very low. I can’t imagine anyone tuning out on that basis. This is a solid novel I could happily have paid five or six dollars for and felt like it was money well spent. Let’s call it four stars.

Under the Amoral Bridge is the first volume of The Bridge Chronicles. I haven’t read the second two, but I plan to. :-)

Posted September 2, 2011 by April L'Orange in Uncategorized

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