Category Archives: Book Reviews
Paula Eisenstein is a wonderful author who I interviewed here earlier this year. You can check out that post for more information about her and the story of how we met–today I’d like to focus instead on her debut novel, Flip Turn.
Let’s start by glancing at the back cover copy:
“In Paula Eisenstein’s spare and provocative first novel, a young girl must come to terms with the discovery that her brother killed a young girl. Feeling alienated and not knowing how to ask for help, she decides that suppressing her sexual development will ensure she doesn’t do the same thing.
In Flip Turn, Eisenstein has created an unforgettable narrator whose success as an athlete leaves her conflicted about the attention she receives. She fears it will remind people of what her brother did and draw negative attention to her family. As her swimming triumphs lead her to the Olympic trials, she recounts her own sexual abuse at the hands of a swim coach and must decide if she should give up her passion to try to find a more normal life.”
Flip Turn is written like a diary. The narrator goes on tangents fairly regularly, which wouldn’t work in an adult book, but helps give the book a teenage feel. On top of having a murderous brother, Flip Turn’s narrator faces the same issues as other teen girls: too much homework, moving, trying to make friends and a constant internal debate about her own self worth. Flip Turn deals with many issues common to teenage girls in an honest way without focusing too hard on any one issue. Flip Turn is also a distinctly Canadian book taking place in London, Ontario, and I’m a sucker for Canadian books.
This book is written for teens but I can certainly see an appeal for adults. It’s an interesting look at competitive swimming, which I knew very little about before reading the book, and a fascinating look at the impact one person’s crimes has on their whole family. I find this particularly fascinating because in the news they never talk about these people. We always hear about the impact on the victim’s family, but never about how violent crime impacts the perpetrator’s family.
The writing style feels very true to a teenage girl’s voice, and the editing is incredibly clean. In fact, this is the best edited book I’ve read in a long time. I noticed a few places where phrasing was weird and a sentence sounded awkward, but not a single typo made it through. This is incredible when even most traditionally published books have a couple errors that made it through.
My only complaint about Flip Turn is that it didn’t truly feel finished at the end. I can’t help but think that there’s more to the story, that something got missed somewhere or perhaps intentionally left out, something that would’ve rounded out the story more. Still, the ending was appropriate even if it felt a bit abrupt, and it wasn’t a Disney happy ending or a tragedy. I’m always happy when an author respects their story and chooses to take the middle ground with their ending, rather than conforming to formulas in the hopes of selling books.
All in all, Flip Turn is a fantastic novel. It’s a window into the life of one teen girl, and her story is powerful enough to reach across all generations. My biggest hope for this book is that nobody will turn it away because it’s about a teenage girl–this story isn’t just for teens, even if the story is about one.
I’m going to rate Flip Turn a 4 out of 5 on the Awesomeness scale(yes, ‘awesome’ is a measurement).
Would you like to read Flip Turn? If so you’ll be thrilled to know that Paula has donated a copy to be given away when I reach 400 subscribers. Don’t want to wait? You can purchase Flip Turn here.
Robin Burks originally contacted me in early October. Seeing that she’d published one of her Nanowrimo novels, I invited her to write a guest post here about character development. I also agreed to review her book, Zeus, Inc.
Zeus, Inc. is a novel that’s hard to classify. It reads like something between a detective novel and an urban fantasy novel, and is even borderline science fiction. The story is set several decades into the future, after the world has nearly run out of power and been saved by a renewable energy source found by Zeus, Inc.’s CEO, Joseph Brentwood.
At the beginning of the story, Mr. Brentwood goes missing. Alex Grosjean, the wonderfully smartassed main character, is hired by his daughter Alisha to find him. Black outs start happening all over the place and Alex believes they’re somehow connected to Mr. Brentwood’s disappearance. She soon discovers that nothing is really what it seems to be, especially not Mr. Brentwood himself.
There are a lot of really cool things about this story. For one thing, it makes extensively detailed use of several aspects of Greek myth. I love stories that have elements of both the real world and mythological ones. In Zeus, Inc. Alex actually goes into Hades and meets a large cast of Greek gods. These gods were masterfully represented and I appreciate the detail of this part of the story.
One thing I found odd but amusing was Alex’s reaction to discovering that she was dealing with gods. She’s suitably shocked, but not suitably cowed. She continues to defy the gods and doesn’t treat them with any of the expected reverence. She treats them like normal people anyway. Now, I know a few people who I think would react much the same way, but it’s still pretty hard to believe. I enjoyed reading it, but I did read with one eyebrow raised as she cursed at the gods without a second thought.
Really though, my main complaint about the book is that it felt over written. The story was wonderful but I felt it could have used some more editing. Sometimes I would find things said twice but in slightly different ways, and other times I would find redundant words. I think that this book could have been much more closely edited, looking for instances of things like “she sat down“(down is implied by sat) and other small things that aren’t technically incorrect but still look sloppy. I saw a few more typos than I usually find in traditionally published books, but mostly the issue was over explanation of everything.
The only thing that bothered me about the story is that Alex at one point gains some supernatural power of her own, but it feels like the power is foreshadowing because it’s never properly explored. She never even really takes the time to learn how to control it, but it only causes her one problem–I would have liked to see this newfound power take a bigger role in the story.
Still, I loved this book. It used mythology in a totally new way, crossed genres a few times and made me laugh several more times. The best part? Ares is afraid of Alex’s cat. A war god who’s afraid of cats? That’s comedy gold right there.
I would definitely like to see more Alex Grosjean stories as she’s a wonderful character and I love the things that spring from Robin’s imagination, but I hope that if a second novel in the series is published more time is taken to edit it thoroughly so it’s a smoother read.
I give Zeus, Inc. a 3/5 star rating. You can purchase it for just $3.00 here.
Robin’s Bio: Robin Burks is not only a novelist, but also writes for RantGaming.com, Syfy Network’s DVICE.com and as well as her own blogs – FanGirlConfessions.com and Robin-Burks.com. Robin’s first novel, Zeus, Inc., is now available on Smashwords, BN.com, Amazon.com and in the iBookstore. She also occasionally speaks French and loves Doctor Who.
I originally met Martin Bolton through Musa. One of Urania’s many authors, he generously provided me with my first ever guest post, and, even better gave me a copy of his co-written fantasy novel to review. Due to a combination of mountains of homework and other obligations, it took me about two months longer than expected to finish the Best Weapon, but I can say it was certainly worth the wait.
The Best Weapon is the story of two brothers created by the ‘Lords of Hell’ as a last ditch effort to save themselves from an unnamed evil force. These brothers, Naiyar and Fulk, are placed on opposite ends of the planet so they won’t draw attention to themselves or discover themselves until the time is right. This book tells the tale of these brothers discovering their true natures and finding each other. Each faces trials which test their will power and strength while showing them that they are more than human.
From the very first scene—the scheming ‘Lords of Hell’ creating the two sons—I was entranced by this novel. I greatly enjoyed the vastly different cultures Naiyar and Fulk belonged to. Both Naiyar’s Djanki and Fulk’s Templars were created with tender care and great detail. While both sons came from deeply religious warrior cultures, the similarities end there. From the dress to the food to the rituals, the reader is shown just how different these two cultures are—and how beautiful, and twisted, each is in its own way.
As a writer, I find it incredible that these two authors managed to create a masterpiece together. I’ve never co-written anything, and to be honest, I’m afraid co-writing would lead to a lot of conflict for me; I have an incendiary personality and I don’t play well with others. So the fact that this world and book were brought together seamlessly by two authors is particularly impressive to me. While I’m pretty sure each writer took on the perspective of one son, there’s no noticeable change in style or writing quality, so you’d never be able to pinpoint which part is which author.
All in all, The Beast Weapon is well worth reading. It involves conflict at every level imaginable, fight scenes on a grand scale, incredible sacrifice and suffering for both brothers, and a beautifully detailed world. I’m thrilled I had the opportunity to review it and I highly recommend you purchase your copy today—and with any luck, you’ll be seeing these two lovely authors here for an interview sometime in the coming months. If I had to give this book a rating out of five stars, I’d give it four out of five stars because it’s a great book but it never quite moved me to tears, which is to me the mark of a book that surpasses even the idea of great.
You can purchase your copy of The Best Weapon here.
Martin Bolton was born in Cornwall in 1979 and now lives and works in Bristol. Previously he concentrated on his artwork and writing small pieces of nonsense for the amusement of his friends, before deciding to do some serious creative writing. His first published work, a full length novel co-written with David Pilling, is The Best Weapon, is due to be released by Musa Publishing on 02 March 2012. His work is inspired by authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Robert E Howard, Bernard Cornwell and Iain M. Banks.
Those of you who’ve been following me for a while may remember Karina Fabian’s guest post on the submission process and my earlier interview with her. Most recently I had the opportunity to review Live and Let Fly, a paranormal fantasy released by Muse It Up Publishing earlier this year.
Let’s start with the back cover:
For a dragon detective with a magic-slinging nun as a partner, saving the worlds gets routine. So, when the U.S. government hires Vern and Sister Grace to recover stolen secrets for creating a new Interdimensional Gap—secrets the U.S. would like to keep, thank you—Vern sees a chance to play Dragon-Oh-Seven.
No human spy, however, ever went up against a Norse goddess determined to rescue her husband. Sigyn will move heaven and earth to get Loki—and use the best and worst of our world against anyone who tries to stop her.
It’s super-spy spoofing at its best with exotic locations (Idaho–exotic? Well, Idaho’s exotic to them), maniacal middle-managers, secret agent men, teen rock stars in trouble, man-eating animatronics, evil overlords, and more!
And on to the review…
As a reader, I quite enjoyed this book. Its main characters, Vern and Grace, are a great pair, with Grace’s calm and faith in God and Vern’s sarcastic narration. Their different personalities balance each other out, both directly in the plot and in the overall tone of the piece. Each also possesses a specific talent: Grace is a strong magical warrior, and Vern… well, he’s a dragon, which comes with all kinds of perks, most of them strength related.
One of my favourite things about this book is that the main relationship which ends up being the driving force of the story is that between best friends rather than lovers. It’s always nice to see characters who aren’t focused on finding romantic partners–though there is a romance sub-plot between two side characters.
That said, the best thing about this book is probably the range of mythologies it includes. While the main characters are Christian–Catholic, to be precise–and in this universe it’s made clear the Christian God does exist, several Norse deities are also included and real in the world of Faerie. My own spiritual belief is that all gods exist and are different representations of the same energy, so the idea of Asgard coexisting with the Christian heaven resonates deeply with me. It’s awesome to see something like this in fiction.
What else was awesome about this book? The Monty Python reference on page 27 and Vern’s insistence on mocking cheesy spy movies everywhere.
As a writer, I enjoyed this book, though I sometimes found the writing overbearing. The sarcastic narrative balanced out the religious references and sometimes ridiculous plot, but even the humour occasionally became overbearing. Sometimes I found the writing style overdone and thought it detracted from the story, but overall I didn’t mind it.
One thing interesting thing was the very deliberate censorship. Because Vern and Grace are (somewhat) strict Catholics, mentioning vulgarities without saying them outright fit in the context. Many of the jokes in the book also worked better because of the character’s religions. As a non-religious person, I usually don’t get through books about stricter religious characters, but Live and Let Fly managed to keep my attention with superb, if occasionally overbearing, writing. The characters are also well-written, well developed and a great team–without the chemistry between characters, I would never have finished this book.
What one line stood out to me most as a writer? I loved this one–or two, from page 109: “Daring rescue, close escape from death, injured knight, and exotic and comfortable transportation? Add that to true love, and you need a chaperone.”
I got this YA novel as a gift from the Word on the Street folks for volunteering. What I should have done is start reading this lovely Canadian novel the minute I got my hands on it. Of course it ended up taking months for me to actually read it, and now I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner. That’s how awesome this book is.
Lilah Cellini fell in love with Jamey Popilowski the very first time she laid eyes on him. Maybe it was because, even then, Jamey was moving to his own tune. When music calls Jamey away from their prairie home, Lilah joins him and the two begin a new life: him as one of hundreds of wannabe musicians in Vancouver, and her as Jamey’s girl. As Jamey becomes absorbed in the musician’s lifestyle and all of its excesses, Lilah must learn to make her own choices and find her own voice.
The book starts with the two of them as children living in two apartments in the same house on Terrabain street and follows them right into adulthood. Told from Lilah’s painfully honest and occasionally confused first-person narrative, this is a heartbreaking story. Through her eyes we see the rise and fall of Jamey and of their relationship. In some ways, this is Jamey’s story as told by Lilah. In other ways, it’s her story, the story of her growing up.
What really stuck out to me is how honest this book is. From the pure love between Jamey and Lilah that seems unbreakable to Lilah’s inner conflicts when their relationship falls apart even to the drugs Jamey does and the bad gigs his band hits, this book is nothing if not honest. Cecilia Frey has a masterful ear for dialogue and the disjointed way Lilah remembers some conversations is more realistic than dialogue in… well, most of the books I’ve ever read, actually. Every once in a while, during conversations involving several people, you’ll encounter a dialogue tag that goes ‘someone said’. This imperfection in Lilah’s memory is one of the things that makes the book great.
Another reason I love this book is because of how Canadian it is. At one point, when Lilah casually mentions smoking a joint, I actually thought ‘wow, this is really Canadian’. Why? Because a lot of American novels and movies sensationalize drug use. Writers often use drugs in their stories to push a point–they want kids to stay off drugs, usually. In A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing, the drugs aren’t there to prove a point. They’re just there, part of the rock star lifestyle just like the travelling and the endless hours spent recording. I find Canadian authors are generally more comfortable allowing things like drugs into their stories without turning them into a message, and Cecilia Frey does this well.
One of my favourite parts of the book is when Lilah tells us about Jamey’s turtles who got soft shell. She’s talking about telling the story of turning these turtles out into the river to her friend Carmen. Carmen always tells her not to put up with Jamey’s crap, and at the end of the story, Lilah–just to the reader–says something along the lines of if she’s gone through that with him, maybe it’s worth putting up with his crap. Lilah’s attitude is one I’ve seen in many relationships around me and one I could understand.
A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing is one book I will never forget. Completely enchanted with the honest narration and Lilah herself, I have laughed, cried and gasped all while reading this book. It explores many different stages of life and different emotions, and includes some beautiful lyrics. I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes music and honest stories written about women.
You can purchase a copy of A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing here.
Stephanie Campbell is one of many authors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my internship at Musa. After I interviewed her, I decided I’d really like to check out her book. Armed with a brand new Kindle and a gift certificate, I made my way to Musa’s site and bought Stephanie’s book.
I wasn’t disappointed.
According to the website:
The only thing more shocking than discovering that dragons really exist is finding out that you are one.
Ever since he could remember, Ford was treated cruelly by his parents, Liddy and Wicker Forks. He cannot figure out why they hate him so much. It is only when he discovers that his father isn’t really Wicker Forks but instead is a mysterious, red-eyed stranger that he goes on a quest to find his true identity—and much, much more.
As he heads forward down the path of danger and illusion, he uncovers a world that he had never imagined, a world of dragons. Ford must decide who he is—a dragon or a boy—and whichever path he chooses will be his future for forever. After all, once you are a dragon, there is no going back.
The Review Part
In Dragon Night, Stephanie Campbell manages to introduce us to a huge new concept–the idea that dragons and half dragons exist–while managing to ground the story in reality with a very mundane beginning and a familiar power struggle: the struggle between pure blood and half blood. We learn with Ford that the half dragons or draconics are pretty much slaves to the bigger, tougher dragons. As Ford is put under the pressure of leading a rebellion against the dragons, the leader of whom might just be his real father, he is faced with one shocking revelation after another.
The best part? He gets angry, he gets upset, he suffers a lot, and he doesn’t whine. Maybe I’m just bitter about Twilight, but it seems to me that too many YA protagonists like to whine. Ford isn’t one of those whiney YA protagonists. He’s a boy who’s just trying to do the right thing–and he’s figuring out exactly what that is as he goes along.
Of course it isn’t perfect. The one thing I wish is that the draconic culture was explored more fully. I would love to know, other than the power struggle between them and the dragons and their shape shifting abilities and all that, what makes them different from ordinary humans. What rituals do they have? Do they have religion? What sorts of gods do they believe in? Other than the struggles they face in the minds and the sadness forced upon them by the dragons, I feel not very much of draconic culture is shown. Maybe I’m just a culture geek, but I really would have loved it if Stephanie explored their culture more fully.
Even without the extra culture building Dragon Night is a great book that kept me turning proverbial pages well into the night. Over the last few years I’ve found myself getting pickier and pickier about books, critiquing them in my head as I read, nit-picking little errors or stylistic things I would have done differently, and I didn’t find myself stopping very often during Dragon Night. I’m happy I read this book and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes YA and dragons–and the chance to explore another culture, however limited that exploration may be.
You can buy Dragon Night for $4.99 here.
I was lucky enough to win this book from a Nanowrimo first line competition hosted by Jurgen Wolff. As you might suspect, this competition asked for the first line of a Nanowrimo novel. I won an honorary mention in this contest with the sentence below:
‘”Then General Allen Cairn struck down the mighty King Logan Baran and his brothers.” Nanny whispered in the candle lit nursery.’
Of course I was pretty excited to dive into this book. Jurgen Wolff has worked in numerous fields of writing, particularly in writing for TV. Among other shows, he wrote for Relic Hunter, which was one of my personal favourites growing up. He now offers coaching services to writers at his website, Your Writing Coach.
Your Writing Coach is an extensive motivational guide to writing. It covers topics interesting to writers at every stage, from figuring out what you want to write to sustaining a long term writing career. Each chapter includes solid advice, quotes, exercises and passwords for bonus material on the website.
This book addresses pretty much every issue a writer has to face: finding ideas, facing rejection, marketing your work, dealing with family members and friends who aren’t supportive of your writing, time management, and a few things I haven’t mentioned. A lot of the advice is similar to other advice that’s out there, but there are new ideas in every chapter, too. Based on the wide range of topics covered in this book, odds are that you’ll find at least one piece of advice in Your Writing Coach Useful.
I read Your Writing Coach mostly on the train to and from school because I’ve been overwhelmingly busy lately, so I haven’t checked out any of the bonus content yet or done most of the exercises. I’m really glad I own this book, because it means next time I’m stuck on something or about to start a new project, I can run through and do some of the exercises. Most of the bonus content is interviews on the website, and I’m looking forward to checking them out when I have the time.
You can buy Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff here.
Perfect Ten is a short story written by Karina Fabian and published by Museitup. It’s the story of a life insurance adjuster named Sheila who ordinarily lives a life without risks. She recently won a vacation, however, and this vacation leads her to Las Vegas and then to an anonymous dating service.
Sheila encounters the thrills of her life but finds out that Coyote, however attractive he may be, is not the perfect ten for Sheila.
As a Reader:
This is a fun little story that’s been sitting in my inbox for… a while… and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it. Sheila’s a funny character with some odd quirks, and that makes this story work a lot better. The adventure she goes on surprised me entirely and kept my interest until the very end.
I highly recommend this story to anyone who likes what feels like a romantic comedy.
As a Writer:
There’s not too much to say about this one as I particularly enjoyed it. It stood up to scrutiny; the story could’ve happily stretched another few pages but it didn’t have to, and it has a classy ending. In particular I like the characterization of Sheila, down to the little cautious gestures-putting on her purse with the flap facing her side to avoid pickpockets. It’s a pretty well written story and I’m pleased that I finally got around to reading it.
You can buy it for just $2.50 here. It’s a fun little read and a great way to kill some time.
Kevin Hopson is an up-and-coming MuseItUp author. Some of you may remember when I interviewed him or when I reviewed his first short story, World of Ash. Today I’m very proud to review his second work, Earthly Forces.
When their friend disappears on a small lighthouse island, two fishermen try to find him before becoming victims themselves.
Overall Rating: 7/10 -Worth Reading
As a Reader:
As a reader I quite enjoyed this story. It’s difficult to write a full-length blog post reviewing a short story, particularly one that you really enjoyed reading. As a reader this story does leave me wondering quite a bit about the forces at work here; part of me would really like to know what’s going on at a deeper level. The ending of this story was well-written and did complete the story quite well, but it also left it open for a new story to be built on top of it. I look forward to reading more of Kevin’s work.
As a Writer:
As a writer I still enjoyed this work and I would still recommend it. There were some things I would have done differently-there always are-and a couple of things which I didn’t particularly like. I like the concept of Kevin’s previous story better-it’s a somewhat less common and more interesting idea-but this story shows that he is growing as a writer. He’s very good at writing a two-person dynamic between friends; I look forward to see him expanding into larger groups-or perhaps detracting into a one-person story.
Overall I’m quite pleased with this story. I look forward to reading more-not just of Kevin’s work but of other MuseItUp books.
You can buy Earthly Forces here.
Read any good books lately? I’d love to hear all about them.
I meant to review this one a while ago but I didn’t get the chance to read it until just a couple of days ago. Before I start I’d like to say thank you to Krista D. Ball for sending me a copy of this novella to review. I quite enjoyed it and it’s been an honour to work with MuseItUp authors. You can buy this book here.
As a Reader
As a reader I really enjoyed this novella. It’s short but I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Dancing Cat, the main character, is well developed and beautifully written. When Dancing Cat confronts the sacred bundle of her tribe and asks the ancestors if they are still watching over her, she is turned into a man by her fallen grandmother. She is wounded and then she is rescued by a man named Bearclaw. He is also well developed and the two form a beautiful friendship which eventually turns to love.
As a reader I was deeply touched by this story. I was also fascinated by the bits of native culture that were shown in this novella.
As a writer
As a writer I was impressed with this work. I didn’t find myself stopping to correct things very often and I enjoyed the story. I thought the characters were well written and that the story was beautiful. I’m glad to have had the chance to read it. It felt believable. I find that very few books accurately portray native culture and that is one of the things I appreciated most about this book.
I officially recommend this novella to anyone looking for a short, poignant read. MuseItUp has continued to impress me with its authors.
You can buy the book here.