Books

Not full book reviews, but recommendations, impressions and random thoughts.

New Review of The Friendship of Mortals

I would like to share a lovely new review of The Friendship of Mortals, by Denzil the Book Owl, on his recently launched review site. Read it here, and the interview in which I answer several questions about the book and its writing.

fofmresized

While you’re there, have a look at some of Denzil’s other reviews. They are what book reviews should be, thoughtful and thorough.

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Book Review: Of Patchwork Warriors by R.J. Llewellyn

“There came an era when the threat of incursion from the infernal other world realm of the Zerstorung was strong, placing the survival of entire unsettled Oakhostian Empire at risk and thus disparate forces began to marshal, to take up any cause or seize any opportunity.
There in the background The Ethereal, The Stommigheid or The Astatheia just a few names for the force which had arrived upon The World in Ages faded from record. Viewed either as a pernicious creature seeking to control, a power for good, an aspect of Nature to be treated with caution or a means to an end, it remained a constant. With an oft forgotten tendency to engage with the unwilling, the unassuming and the unruly from the ranks of lesser folk whose consequential and various struggles would unsettle many a careful plan.
This is the tale of three such, an innocent housemaid, a dutiful soldier and a self-appointed scourge of evil quite unaware the safety of an Empire would soon be resting on them.
They did not take uniformly or conventionally to the task, for that was the way of things, when involved with The Ethereal, The Stommigheid or The Astatheia.”

Don’t let the magisterial tone of this description fool you. Of Patchwork Warriors is an engaging, action-packed, and yet thoughtful fantasy adventure, featuring three really strong female characters. Fate throws them together, and once they realize they have to cooperate despite their differences, these ladies really kick butt.

It’s hard to say if the setting is a post-apocalyptic future or a parallel reality, and it really doesn’t matter. The Oakhostian Empire vaguely resembles Europe in geography and cultures. Technology is sort of medieval, with a few notable exceptions, the primary one being the force called, variously, The Ethereal, The Stommigheid or The Astatheia. Although poorly understood, it is monitored and made use of by different groups to further their interests — ecclesiatics, military, criminals, and assorted independent operators. This force is sort of like our internet, but much more powerful and dangerous. It can be used to cause time-jolts and move things around (whole buildings, for example), even into other dimensions. If messed with too much, it can open portals into a dread realm called the Zerstorung, where there are monsters. An imminent breach of this sort precipitates the events of this novel.

In contrast to the setting, the three main characters, their personalities, and their lively and colourful dialogue humanize the story and make it irresistible. Arketre Beritt is a medician in the elite LifeGuard. From her point of view, the reader is introduced to the military culture of this force, its practices and outlooks. Trelli (whose surname is never mentioned) is a maid in the household of a merchant family. A younger son of the family is a Jordisk (sort of like a hacker), who has built his own device to access the mysterious force called the Stommigheid. Unfortunately for Trelli, the force has an affinity for her, which throws her into situations beyond belief. And then there’s Karlyn Nahtinee, a zany individual with a nose for evil (and good) and a talent for incendiary devices. When a number of conflicting interests collide with disastrous consequences, these three must join forces to save each other, and maybe the world.

The supporting characters are varied and memorable. They include priests, soldiers, organized (and disorganized) criminals, pirates, noblemen, and one nasty evil-for-the-fun-of-it type. There are also monsters.

In fairness, I must note bumps in the form of typos and omissions, but the story is compelling enough to ride over them. For anyone who enjoys fantasy with a difference, I thoroughly recommend this idiosyncratic work. The author has provided a helpful glossary that explains invented terms and swear words. Those invented swear words are strangely apt; you may find yourself using some of them!

Of Patchwork Warriors is available at the usual Amazon outlets:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.ca

Amazon.com.au

 

 

 

Book Promo – Get the Herbert West Series for half price, November 3rd to 10th…

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Boxset Link

Smashwords is an ebook distributor, but it also has its own nifty little ebook store.

Herbert West is the main character of the Herbert West Series (who would have guessed?), written and published by me, Audrey Driscoll. The genre? Something I call literary supernatural/psychological.

From ancient Arkham to the agony of the Great War, from Acadie to the islands of the West Coast, a brilliant but amoral physician is subjected to travails and entanglements, to become a source of healing — and of peril.

More about the series HERE

November 7th is Herbert’s 113th birthday — or his 17th, if you count from the day I began writing The Friendship of Mortals, which is the first book in the series.

To celebrate, I’m offering Books 2, 3, and 4 of the series, as well as the “box set” of all four books, at half price from November…

View original post 53 more words

Zeke the Cat sleeping on pond bench,

“Boring!”

A cat would rather sleep than read a book.* So would many readers, if the book they’re reading is boring.

This is the ultimate condemnation of a piece of writing. It’s OK (sort of) for a book to be gross, disgusting, crude and even lame (well, lame isn’t so good), but to be labelled boring means a book is a dead duck. Review sites are full of comments like, “If you can’t sleep, take this book,” or, “The only time the story moved along was when I threw the book at the wall.” Accompanied by single stars.

So, authors — don’t write boring! Easy peasy.

But…

What is boring, anyway?  “Boring,” like “fun,” “profound,” or “disgusting,” is a judgment, not an absolute.

Words and phrases often seen in reviews along with “boring” include: slow, too much description, too complicated, doesn’t go anywhere.

So, to many readers, “boring” = slow, wordy, confusing, pointless. But some readers describe slow-paced books as engrossing, with vivid descriptions, complex characters and intricate plots. Questions, puzzles or mysteries engage readers and make them eager to go on the journey created by the author, even if it’s 700 pages long.

For examples of diverging reader opinions, have a look at Goodreads reviews of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

The deciding element seems to be purpose — slow or fast, wordy or terse, simple or complex, if a story doesn’t present a destination, however distant, many readers are not willing to put in the time and effort to read it. To put it crudely, there has to be a payoff.

July 2, 2012

Where?

A book must offer something worth the reader’s time, a path with promise. If the path heads into a dismal swamp or an arid wasteland, instead of climbing to gorgeous views and dramatic heights, the reader will turn around and go home.

Beautiful prose alone isn’t enough reason to keep reading. A plot full of twists and turns won’t keep the reader’s interest if it wanders around aimlessly without a resolution. Fulsome descriptions, extensive backstory, and philosophizing by the narrator put demands on readers’ patience, but they are willing to do the work and put in the time if there is a question to be answered, a mystery to be solved, a revelation to be revealed. The author must acknowledge this and keep the story moving, even if it’s slow and complicated.

Some readers appreciate books that require a bit of intellectual effort. Others demand pure escapism, effortlessly absorbed. The cover image and book description should accurately signal the book’s genre and tone, but, like body language at a cocktail party, there may be room for misinterpretation. If a book’s exterior says “I’m a thriller,” but the story inside is actually romance or another genre, readers feel deceived.

Once annoyed with a book, readers may detach from the story and start to notice things they wouldn’t otherwise: overused phrases or reminders of character quirks; writing that calls attention to itself  (“Hey, check out my strong verbs!”); potentially confusing complications such as chronological and p.o.v. jumps. And, of course, typos, misspellings and grammatical errors.

At this point, the reader closes the book never to open it again. Or maybe throws it at the wall and writes a one-star, one-word review: “Boring.”

Finally, “boring” may be short for “It wasn’t my kind of book.” Reading, after all, is a two-way process. Just as publishing has become easier, so has reviewing and commenting on books. Not all reviews and comments are thoughtful and eloquently expressed.

Authors, be aware of the expectations your book creates, and make sure it delivers what is promised.

Readers, if you think a book is boring, try to figure out why, and put those thoughts into your review. They might help the author write a better book.

* Of course, cats would rather sleep than do just about anything.

Ray Bradbury's The Golden Apples of the Sun

Old Stories, New Thoughts

After various distractions, I’ve finally resumed an exercise program I started early in the year. It’s a strength-building regimen by physical therapist Ming Chew, author of The Permanent Pain Cure.  There are two sets of three different exercises, some involving weights. Between sets of “reps,” one is required to rest for ninety or forty-five seconds. It’s amazing how long these rest periods feel if I just sit there, so I grabbed a book to read from the huge and random accumulation of old paperbacks that lives in our basement.

The Golden Apples of the Sun is a collection of stories by Ray Bradbury originally published in the 1940s and ’50s. The scribbled “50” (meaning 50 cents) on the cover indicates my copy was a used bookstore find — probably 30 years ago.  Between exercises, I sit down and read a page or so, and I must admit sometimes the rests are extended a bit if the narrative is too captivating to interrupt.

I was surprised how applicable some of these stories are to present-day concerns. “The Murderer” is about one man’s way of dealing with intrusive communication technology. “The Big Black and White Game” is a charming yet disturbing look at race relations in America through the eyes of a child at a baseball game. “I See You Never” is about a Mexican man in Los Angeles facing deportation. And “Embroidery” tells how three women spend the last hours before a nuclear explosion. Bradbury’s writing is fresh and delightful. I recommend tracking down this book, The Golden Apples of the Sun, or at least the stories I’ve mentioned.

A while ago, I bought The Cthulhu Mythos Ebook Bundle from Dark Regions Press. (I think it’s still on sale for $15 US — a deal at that price). Two of the books in this tentacled treasure chest are compilations of weird fiction that impressed and influenced H.P. Lovecraft, the master of the weird tale. They are edited and introduced by Lovecraft scholar and aficionado S.T. Joshi. The authors include M.R. James, Ambrose Bierce, Robert W. Chambers and Algernon Blackwood, plus a few until now unknown to me, such as Fitz-James O’Brien, Ralph Adams Cram, and A. Merritt. Merritt’s story, “The Moon Pool,” contains a reference to an ancient being called Chau-te-leur. Sounds a bit like “Cthulhu,” doesn’t it? Another story, “Ooze,” by Anthony M. Rud, contains a creature that may well be the ur-Shoggoth. And the main character of Blackwood’s “Ancient Sorceries” reminded me of HPL himself.

Cthulhu Mythos Ebook Bundle

All these stories have been around for a while, and many of them show their age, a few in rather unflattering ways, but Lovecraft fans will appreciate most of them, as well as the other offerings in the ebook bundle. I know I’m looking forward to working my way through them.

 

open books, grass

Summer Reading Roundup

I’ve been catching up on a virtual TBR pile of ebooks I acquired in the past couple of years — most (but not all) from Smashwords, and mainly during Read An Ebook Week and Summer/Winter Sale events. Many of them were free.

Free ebooks are considered problematic by many. Rumor has it they are picked up by persons deficient in morals whose purpose is simply to amass hundreds of ebooks — electronic hoarders, in effect. And, rumor adds, these books are never read. Indie authors are advised never to give away their books for free (except as part of KDP Select’s five free days, of course. Oh, and Goodreads giveaways, in which case you give someone a free print copy, and often pay for shipping it to them).

End of digression. Now, where was I? Oh yes — free ebooks. I have deliberately acquired quite a few, mainly from Smashwords. And I have read most of them. One thing I’ve found, though — it’s really easy to forget ebooks, free or otherwise. Unless I download and start reading an ebook right after I buy it, it disappears into the universe of electronic blips that live in my computer. Unlike physical books that accumulate to form tottering piles on the bedside table (or the floor), ebooks easily vanish from sight. And you know what happens then.

Anticipating summer reading time, I had a look through a file called My Digital Editions. I was happily shocked to find half a dozen titles I had completely forgotten about, sitting there unread. I copied them to my e-reader (yes, I still have one of those) and proceeded to read.

Here are my impressions of some of those ebooks. These aren’t in-depth reviews, just superficial observations. The titles are listed in the order I began reading.

 

The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set. A boxed set of nine stories by crime fiction writers featured on the Crime Cafe podcast with bonus interviews!

A perfect accompaniment for a long flight, bus ride, or any situation that may involve lengthy waits. These books were originally published some years ago, but are still worthy of attention. Hard boiled to cozy mystery, novel to novella-length crime fiction by nine different authors. Quality ranges from okay to excellent.

In No Particular Order: a memoir / by Kevin Brennan. It’s true that life is linear, but the living of it is all over the map. In this memoir-in-vignettes, novelist Kevin Brennan (Parts Unknown, Yesterday Road) examines his life the way memories occur in the wild: in no particular order. Whether it’s recalling high school humiliations, ups and downs in love and romance, or unique interactions with the human race at home and abroad, Brennan both entertains and moves the reader with moments of unexpected poignancy and full-tilt humor. In No Particular Order is a deconstructed memoir, like no other because it looks at life as it really is — a kaleidoscope of individual moments.

Plucked from Kevin Brennan’s blog, this bouquet of vignettes and anecdotes presents a poignant picture of growing up and coming of age in the America of the 1960s through to the new millennium. These are thin but tasty slices of life to be savoured anytime. After reading, I find myself thinking, “Yeah!” or, “Oh!” or, “Hmm.”

The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part One: Eagle Ascendant / by Lorinda J. Taylor. Robbin Haysus Nikalishin was born on 31 October 2729 and became the first starship Captain to make contact with extraterrestrials. This book recounts the early life of this man who became one of Earth’s greatest heroes. All heroes are human beings and all human beings are flawed, and the man the Earth will come to know as “Capt. Robbie” was a very human man.

Combining hard SF with a coming-of-age story, this is an engrossing read. The future society in which the book is set is methodically constructed and fascinating. The fictional science sounded plausible to me. Step by step, the story builds to a gripping climax, ending with an irresistible situation that compels one to read Part Two.

The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part Two: Wounded Eagle / by Lorinda J. Taylor. In this second part of Capt. Robbin Nikalishin’s biography, the responsibility for the space disaster in Part One is determined and Prf. Eiginsh’s mystifying behavior is explained, while the Captain attempts to recover from the devastating aftereffects of the disaster. The resolution is bittersweet; will the Captain ever become capable of coping fully with the damage that was done to him? 

Exploring the causes and consequences of the catastrophe that ends Part One, this book is slower but equally interesting. Less technology and more psychology than the first volume.

Awful, Ohio / by Sirloin Furr. Troy Slushy’s exposure to his life-decimating job, depressed wife, and crumbling home encourage his desire for a life in perpetual darkness. It becomes his objective to destroy the bright, menacing beast that removes him from the ecstasy of his dreams, only to expose him to all of these worthless possessions. Troy Slushy declares that his mission is to destroy the sun.

A modern allegory? Experimental fiction? The author has forged a unique monstrosity, beating words into new shapes and meanings. I had to take a break at the halfway point to reset my brain.

A Long Night in Hell / by Jack Stornoway. The ride down the elevator to Agni Mining Station was like a ride into Hell itself. On a planet where you could never quite get warm enough, it quickly became uncomfortably warm, then uncomfortably hot. G. Drew Akers had been in deep mines before, he’d worked in one for two years in Hussy Crater in his early twenties.

This 10K-word story is categorized as science fiction, but the main character is a detective investigating a murder in a mining colony deep below the surface of Mars. Sadly, the tale does not live up to its intriguing setting.

Out of Focus / by Susan Egner. Morgan Grey photographs a prowler at her home 24 hours after her airline pilot-husband’s death. Picking up the pieces of her life, she debuts her photographic talents and features the unusual eyes of the prowler, setting off unforeseen events exposing her husband’s double life. The illusion of a perfect life gives way to the reality of a gifted artist’s celebrity—a life no longer out of focus.

A thriller of the “woman discovers her husband’s secrets after his death” type. Strangely, the reader is informed of the secrets early in the book, so the main question for the reader is when and how Morgan will discover them. Details about flying commercial airplanes, shooting photographs and processing film are interesting, and there are some suspenseful episodes, but the ending is rushed and unsatisfying. Includes a collection of metaphors and similes used to describe Morgan’s green eyes.

Baiting & Fishing / by Meredith Rae Morgan. A newspaper reporter investigates the circumstances of a corporate scandal, and finds the woman of his dreams. Is she his perfect match or a murderess? Is he a heel or a hero?

Middle-aged reporter Ray Bailey is easy to like and sympathize with, as what starts out a potential big story turns into a charming romance. The vanishing lifestyle of Gulf Coast Florida is a big feature of this book — especially fishing, eating fish, and more fishing. Turns out Ray’s mystery woman is a whiz at fishing, and really rich, and great-looking. And a bunch of other things as well, some of them not so good. Kept me reading, and wondering.

The Eternal Librarian / by Meyari McFarland. When humanity went to the stars they took many things with them. Brencis ensured that they took the books. Unfortunately, humanity also took along their greed, their blindness and their short-sighted focus on all the wrong things. The Eternal Librarian is a touching exploration of human nature, determination and the love of learning that is dedicated to librarians and book lovers everywhere.

Well, the description pretty much sums it up. A short story with a sincere message.

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

clock mechanism plus numbers

Optimal Order: Reading the Herbert West Series

 

When I wrote the four books that make up the Herbert West Series, I intended them to work as stand-alone novels. And they do, sort of, but to fully appreciate the second through fourth books, it’s really helpful to have read the first one.

hws-complete-3

To complicate things, I also wrote and published four Supplements to the series, short stories that fit within or between the four books.

The first book of the series, The Friendship of Mortals, and all four Supplements, are available as free downloads. More information here.

From July 1st to 31st, Books 2, 3, and 4 of the series will be available at 50% off the regular prices, at the Smashwords store only, as part of the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale.

For readers new to the series, here is the optimal order in which to read the books and supplements:

  • Book 1, The Friendship of Mortals
  • Supplement 1, The Nexus : a portal to the Herbert West Series
  • Supplement 2, From the Annexe : an untold tale
  • Book 2, Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey
  • Book 3, Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure
  • Supplement 3, A Visit to Luxor
  • Supplement 4, One of the Fourteen
  • Book 4, Hunting the Phoenix.

 

In whatever order a reader may wish to read, it’s best to save Book 4, Hunting the Phoenix, for the end — well, because it’s the end.

Herbert West Series Composite

HW Series Supps Composite

 

 

 

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay, enhanced with Canva.

 

publicity image for Herbert West Reanimator series

Herbert in Italy

Herbert West is about to manifest in an Italian-made web and TV series, and eventually a feature film. Yet another incarnation of this fascinating character, in addition to H.P. Lovecraft’s original, the “Re-Animator” movies directed by Stuart Gordon and featuring Jeffrey Combs, and, of course, the series of novels by one Audrey Driscoll.

Everyone knows and loves the masterful 1985 horror comedy Re-Animator. Directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna and Charles Band, the proudly unrated sex and splatter shocker based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, won the hearts of horror fans and mainstream critics and put Gordon on the map. And now, 32 years later, an intrepid band of Italians are reviving the source story for a web and TV series.
Read more at http://www.comingsoon.net/horror/news/858595-re-animator-is-now-an-italian-series#8oLxm0Y15ivjPC9i.99

Death… is just the beginning.

garden book

A Noteworthy New Garden Book

 

Garden Flora by Noel Kingsbury.

Next to gardening, reading about gardening is a unique pleasure. But finding truly readable garden books is not always easy. Reference-type books, with how-to-do-it instructions, or descriptions of plants and their preferred growing conditions, may be useful, but are not entertaining to read. These are books I consult standing up, with garden gloves stuffed in my pocket and a project of some sort half-done outside.

Readable garden books are to be savoured in winter, or when it’s too dark to do real gardening. They are written by dirt-under-the-fingernails gardeners who are also good writers. Like the best fiction books, they become reliable friends.

Garden Flora by Noel Kingsbury lives up to its subtitle: “the natural and cultural history of the plants in your garden.” It presents a lot of information in its 368 pages. It is arranged by genus, in alphabetical order, but each section is an essay, covering genetics, evolution, distribution, botanical characteristics, and history in cultivation. This last includes discovery, medicinal and religious uses, breeding, cultivars and fashions. Kingsbury’s informal writing style delivers facts in a congenial, readable manner. It was a revelation to me that the genus name Alchemilla derives from Arabic for “alchemy,” because of the way water droplets cupped in the leaves shine like mercury. Apparently, medieval alchemists believed this water to be especially pure and gathered it for their procedures.

The book’s extensive introduction includes valuable information about plant classification, evolution, ecology, habits and habitats, as well as a history of plant cultivation from ancient and early historical times (dubbed “before glass”) to the modern era (“after glass”). Another surprise for me was how many varieties created by plant breeders have vanished from cultivation over the years, after falling out of fashion, or because growing them became too troublesome or costly. Perhaps we are in a sort of “post glass” era?

Illustrations are drawn largely from botanical art and historical nursery catalogues, which are interesting and/or charming, but the pictures I appreciated most are those of plants in their natural habitats — hostas and daylilies growing wild in Japan, delphiniums in Kyrgyzstan, colchicums in Turkey, lupins in Washington State.

This is a fairly large volume, almost a coffee-table book, and quite heavy. It doesn’t pass the bath-bed-bus-beach test, but the depth and richness of its contents make it a book I will be content to sit down at a table and read, now and for years to come.

Local Author Book Review #13: Deception Bay by Lea Tassie

dec-bay-front-cover-web-thumb

Greater Victoria Public Library (in Victoria, British Columbia) launched its third Emerging Local Authors Collection on May 4th. I have already finished reading a book from it!

Here is the description from the back cover:

To a tourist, the sleepy village of Deception Bay appears to be an idyllic, peaceful retreat, anything but deceptive. But Larry, a bartender in the old, quaint, ivy-covered inn, and Brenda, his realtor buddy, know better. They discover the secrets lurking below the surface, such as who attends the occult meetings and who committed the unreported rape. They can guess who lit the mysterious fire, though there’s no proof, and they discover the motives of the man who is definitely not what he seems to be. And they are not above starting a few rumors of their own to make the local news more interesting!

I picked up this book expecting to read a cozy mystery. Small town, secrets, crimes and rumors — cozy mystery, right? Wrong. Although it shares some elements with that genre, this book is about relationships — between parents and children, spouses and ex-spouses, friends, and people and their community.

The story is told in first person by the two main characters, Larry the bartender and Brenda the realtor, in alternating chapters. Each of them faces a series of problems which they share with one another, usually over drinks. There’s a lot of drinking in this book — endless gin and tonics (with lemon slices) for Brenda, beer, spirits and wine for others. Alcohol, in fact, is a major plot lubricant. The reader may wish to avoid vicarious driving after reading it.

The plot, like life in this village on Vancouver Island’s east coast, progresses at a leisurely pace. Nothing resembling a true crisis appears until the halfway point, but I was happy to wander through the spring and summer days with Larry and Brenda to discover how matters are resolved as autumn begins.

Author Lea Tassie lives in the region in which this book is set, and she knows whereof she speaks.

My rating: 7 out of 10 stars (in my own rating system: 1 = abysmal, 2 = barely readable, 3 = mediocre, 4 = not bad, 5 = OK but not great, 6 = good but unremarkable, 7 = pretty good, 8 = really good, 9 = remarkable, 10 = superlative).