book reviews

open books, grass

Summer Reading Report

Summer is definitely in the rearview now, so I thought I would report on how I did with my list of intended summer reads.

I’m happy to say I finished reading all the books I named in my June 12th post. And a few others besides.

Here are one-sentence reviews (an exercise in brevity inspired by horror writer Priscilla Bettis). The book titles link to my full reviews on Goodreads.

Sunwielder by D. Wallace Peach
In vivid, graphic prose, this book tells the story of a farmer turned soldier in a brutal and endless war, who receives a gift that grants him a unique relationship with death.

Best Friends and Other Lovers by J.F. Kaufmann
A trio of spicy love stories, including a Christmas-themed tale that warms the heart as well as… other places.

Sailing to Redoubt by C. Litka
A delightful old-fashioned adventure story in which an aspiring archaeologist finds himself on a sailboat in tropical seas with a pair of enigmatic twin sisters.

The Daemoniac by Kat Ross
A twisty mystery in which a whip-smart young woman detective races around 1880s New York City to track down a diabolical killer who may not be human.

The Journey by Suzanne Miller
A hopeful post-apocalyptic story in which two young people seek healing and truth in a world devastated by climate change.

Alchemy by Mark Ryan
A sparse but intriguing story about an alchemist, unfortunately diluted by long sections of passionate poetry.

The Two-Blood Legacy by J.F. Kaufmann
A detailed paranormal romance and family saga about gorgeous werewolves, wizards, and vampires in the present-day western U.S.

Hope by Terry Tyler
A compelling and frighteningly realistic dystopian thriller in which a young woman becomes enmeshed in the heartless machinery of a near-future UK engaged in brutal social engineering.

Those were the books on my list, but I actually read several more.

Surviving Sanctuary by P.J. O’Brien
A very long (nearly 500K words) but exceedingly engaging book in which a young American man looking for an ex-girlfriend’s missing sister visits a country (that doesn’t exist, but should) and learns a great deal about its customs and history. (Full disclosure: I started reading it quite a while before summer began.)

All Shapes and Disguises by Lee-Anne Stack
Reviewed in an earlier post.

A Year in the Life of Leah Brand by Lucinda E. Clarke
A page-turner about a woman having a really bad year that jolted me from schadenfreude to sympathy and back.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
A fun read about children with special talents on a secret mission that was just the thing to read while recovering from That Virus.

The Necromancer’s Daughter by D. Wallace Peach
A dramatic and beautifully written fantasy set in a gorgeously realized world that is not without perils, especially to those with the power to heal death.

Now back to the TBR!

All Shapes and Disguises by Lee-Anne Stack

Local Author Book Review #17: All Shapes and Disguises by Lee-Anne Stack

This is another in my occasional series called Local Author Book Reviews, featuring authors from the Greater Victoria (British Columbia) region whose books are included in the Greater Victoria Public Library’s Emerging Local Authors Collection.

Book Description:

Kate, Pearl and Colin are back for another wild adventure. Vacationing at her family’s remote cottage in northern Ontario, Kate rescues a stranger who’s been injured after losing a blueberry patch dispute with a bear. His captivating charm immerses them in a world of gold, murder, and real estate conspiracies. But is he the real deal? With night whispering its arrival, Kate is challenged to confront one of her greatest fears.

My review:

Kate O’Malley (first encountered in Clamming Up) is back, along with her friends Pearl and Colin. This time, the trio is vacationing in Kate’s family’s cabin (known as The Camp) on a lake near Timmins, in northern Ontario. This setting, clearly based on a real place known to and loved by the author, informs and illustrates the story. Even the mosquitoes and leeches are included, as well as bears, moose (there’s a really good scene with one of these), otters, and other wildlife.

Before the fun begins, though, a prologue shows the final moments of a woman’s life. The means of her death and the reasons for it constitute the mystery element of the book, one which emerges gradually amid activities such as fishing, swimming, and boating. Another character emerges as well—Ben Brodan, whom Kate rescues after he’s injured while eluding a mother bear. It turns out Ben was a friend of the deceased woman. As Kate and her friends help him out, they are drawn into a legal tangle involving gold, mining claims, property transactions, contracts, and shady enterprises. Kate and Ben are also drawn to one another, introducing an element of romance.

Even though it takes a while for the mystery to manifest, there is always something exciting going on. Kate and the others know how to enjoy themselves, whether they are fishing, cooking, playing board games, or imbibing an impressive array of beverages. (In fact, a complete menu for a stay at a rustic lakeside retreat may be derived from this book.)

The point of view and narrative voice is Kate’s, in short chapters with catchy titles. A few even shorter untitled chapters briefly show nameless persons carrying out sinister deeds. A couple of local eccentrics and an Ontario Provincial Police detective with the memorable name of Tuffanski round out the supporting cast.

The motives and methods are figured out after a number of harrowing situations and with the help of friends in the right places, a few lucky breaks, and some tech. The ending is satisfying. I recommend this book unreservedly to anyone looking for a realistic mystery with an upbeat style. The vicarious stay at The Camp is a bonus.

SHE books info

Smorgasbord Book Reviews -#Action #Supernatural #AncientEgypt She who comes forth by Audrey Driscoll

Here is a splendid review for She Who Comes Forth by the redoubtable Sally Cronin.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Today I am reviewing She who comes forth by Audrey Driscoll…an intriguing action adventure set in the land of the Pharoahs.

About the book

Recently turned 21, France Leighton travels to Luxor, Egypt, taking with her two legacies—an antique cello and an emerald ring. Instead of the archaeological adventure she expects, she gets a lecherous dig director, hidden agendas, a risky balloon ride, and an enigmatic nuclear physicist. In the mysteries of the ancient tombs, France realizes she and her gifts may imperil the world—or save it.

More Details:
October 1962. The developing nuclear missile crisis in Cuba is of no concern to Francesca “France” Leighton. Recently turned 21, France travels from her home in Providence to a job at an archaeological dig in Luxor, Egypt. She takes with her two legacies—an emerald ring from the grandfather she never knew, and an antique cello from his friend, a man…

View original post 698 more words

She Who Returns ~ Audrey Driscoll ~ #Travel Adventure Fiction ~ #Sequel ~#Review

I was thrilled to wake up to this review of She Who Returns, from Jaye Marie.

Anita Dawes and Jaye Marie

Every decision has consequences, and logic gets you every time.

France Leighton is studying Egyptology at Miskatonic University, hoping to return to Egypt via a field school offered by that institution. But France has a talent for rash decisions, and things are complicated by the arrival of her twin half-brothers from England. Edward and Peter are contrasts—one a rational scientist, the other a dabbler in the occult—but they are equally capable of persuading France to help them with dubious schemes.

France does return to Egypt, if not quite the way she intended. She encounters old friends and new enemies, and challenges rooted in her previous adventures and her family’s complicated history. Accusations of antiquities theft drive France and her companions into hiding in the Theban Hills west of Luxor. An attack from the unknown turns an adventure into a desperate predicament. On the brink of yet another failure, France must…

View original post 356 more words

#bookreview – Tales from the Annexe

I’m chuffed by this lovely review and interview on Liz Gauffreau’s blog.

Elizabeth Gauffreau

Amazon: US UK CA UKAU DE

My Review

As its subtitle indicates, Tales from the Annex is a collection of seven stories based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West character, followed by seven other tales. 

I went into the collection not having read Driscoll’s Herbert West novels or anything by H.P. Lovecraft. I was very curious to see whether these tales could stand on their own, as well as to gain insight into why this character would inspire a contemporary writer to reanimate him in her own fiction. 

About half-way through the Herbert West section of Tales from the Annex, I sought out and read Lovecraft’s original story: “Herbert West: Reanimator.”  I had my answer: Herbert West is in the literary tradition of the prideful scientist who seeks to conquer death by bringing the dead back to life. Endlessly fascinating! 

After reading the seven Herbert West stories, I was…

View original post 1,134 more words

Seeing More Stars: Rating and Ranking

Recently I published a post about an apparent disconnect between quality of writing and the ratings and reviews of books on Goodreads. There were a lot of comments, including one that linked to this article on “review bombing” on the Goodreads site.

Ratings and reviews are important for authors, especially indies. But given the inconsistencies and manipulations they’re subject to, maybe they shouldn’t be.

open books, grass

The standard rating scheme found on Amazon, Goodreads, and many other sites, is the five star system, in which five stars means “excellent” and one star means “abysmal.” It’s neat and simple, and because it involves numbers, may be considered quantitative. Never mind that it’s purely subjective and may be gamed.

Calvin and Hobbes comic strip about books
Image source unknown

Ways to rate or label a book’s quality

  • Five star system.
  • Ten star system.
  • Binary system: Yes or No? Good or Bad?
  • Would you read this book again?
  • Would you recommend this book to a friend?
  • Would you recommend it to an enemy?
  • Emotional effect checklist: the book made me feel: happy, excited, scared, angry, disgusted, bored, etc.
  • No rating at all; read the reviews and make up your own mind.

The whole point of rating is to establish a value marker for a book. If you look up a title on Goodreads, you see the book’s collective star ranking below the title and author, expressed as both an image and a number, such as 4.39, 3.67, or whatever. Next to that is a “Rating details” link that shows how many readers have assigned each rating, both as a graph and numerically. It may look scientific and unarguable, but that’s deceptive when you think about where the data comes from.

open book against blue sky with white clouds

Is rating necessary or realistic for books? Is a book a “product,” like a vacuum cleaner or a t-shirt?

Maybe it depends on how readers use the information. To me, the numbers and rating profile are only a preliminary indication. I often look up reviews and ratings only after I’ve started reading a book and have formed an idea about it. At that point, I want to see what other readers think. I usually read reviews with ratings other than five stars because they go into into more detail than “I love, love, LOVE this book!” So ratings don’t have a direct bearing on whether I buy a book.

This is not true for other readers, I’m sure, and I know that ratings and reviews do have a great deal of influence on outcomes such as BookBub promotions and purchases by libraries.

Something to think about: Amazon’s ranking system is based on sales, not ratings. The star ratings are a separate thing. In theory, if enough people buy a book through Amazon it could be a Number 1 Bestseller, even if no one rates (or even reads) it.

Finally, what about those lazy (or malicious) people who give low ratings but don’t review? I notice this a lot on Goodreads. Okay, it’s way easier just to click on a star than to marshal your thoughts and put them into words, but it’s not terribly helpful for readers or authors. This is especially true of one and two star ratings. I think it’s important to specify why you think a book deserves a low rating. Are some of those reviewless 1-star ratings mean-spirited efforts to drag down the number attached to a particular book?

What about you, fellow writers and readers? What do you think of book ratings? Do you pay attention to them when selecting books to read? Would you prefer something other than the 5 stars?

Featured image from Pexels; other images from Pixabay, except as noted.

Seeing Stars–and Red

I’ve written quite a few posts in my Audrey the Contrarian persona, questioning the validity of some writing rules advice. You know what I mean–don’t use certain words, including “was,” avoid dialogue tags other than “said,” don’t write prologues, etc. and etc. I admit it–as soon as I perceive a wagging finger, my defenses go up.

gargoyle grumpy
“Sez who?”

Well, I’ve had a bit of an epiphany about this recently, in the form of a multi-author, themed box set of more than a dozen novels in ebook form. I acquired it more than a year ago but didn’t start reading it until recently.

So far, I’ve read six of the novels. All were previously published and most are parts of series. Several of them were probably #1 Bestsellers at some point. All begin with pages of the usual gushy blurbs (which I always skip). At least two of them so far are really good reads, well-written and interesting, but it’s the others I’m concerned with here.

One of these books begins with a prologue. That’s okay with me; I’m not opposed to prologues on principle. This one must have been designed to give the reader a jolt right from the start, and it did its job. But neither the characters nor the situation ever appear in the story that follows, with the exception of a single fleeting reference in the first chapter. Otherwise the story was fairly good, until it was spoiled by plot chasms, unnecessary references to events in other books in the series, and twists that failed my credibility test.

I don’t usually skim and skip when I read, but another of these books was so mushy-gushy, I ended up doing that. In the first chapter, the main character describes a person in minute detail, complete with a mini-backstory, fashion choices, and incredible devotion to said m.c. That person never appears again. The story is told in first person point of view, except for the occasional paragraph in third person. And no, those third person paragraphs are not deliberate stylistic devices, but errors. Finally, the m.c.’s personality and background are completely wrong for her profession, which severely strains the story’s credibility. Not only that, but the reader is treated to a detailed description of every emotional blip and bump the m.c. experiences.

A third example is a clunky sandwich of two different genres–the beginning and end are one genre, the filling in the middle the second. It doesn’t work well, but what really annoyed me was all the murmuring. Even the bad guy murmurs a typical bad guy command. “Drop the gun!” he murmured. Every time I pressed the next page button I made a bet with myself that someone would murmur on that page. And most of the time I was right. One more thing–the name of the m.c. changes between page 1 and page 2. I read those pages a couple of times, wondering what happened to X, before I realized he was actually Y.

Out of curiosity, I looked up these books on Goodreads to see what other readers might have said about them.

Guess what? All three had many 5-star ratings and rave reviews! A few reviews mentioned some of the problems I had noticed, but they were a tiny minority. It’s possible, of course, that some readers abandoned the books partway through and did not post reviews.

So now I wonder why, when we writers are told repeatedly that readers will not tolerate problems like the ones I’ve described, reviews and ratings don’t bear this out. Here are a few theories:

  1. The reviews are biased, either because the individuals who wrote them are doing the author a favour, or the reviews were paid for, or some other suspect reason.
  2. These particular readers/reviewers just happened to be exceedingly uncritical.
  3. Readers of genre fiction don’t care about many of the things writers are advised to care about.

Extrapolating from #3, I think there are two kinds of readers (well, there are probably more than two, but bear with me while I make my point). There are casual readers who just want to whiz through a story as light entertainment. As long as the plot holds together, they don’t notice details. Then there are critical readers who notice stuff like the above. In the latter group are writers, authors, and editors–in other words, the folks who write and read those blog posts telling you not to commit those sins.

So what is a writer to conclude from this?

Cynical me says don’t sweat the rewrites and proofreading. Forget the advice and bang out a plot-driven story every three months with the expected elements for your genre. Then put your real efforts into cultivating your readers and marketing. Writer me says striving to perfect my writing is a worthwhile end in itself even if no one reads it. Which makes sense, as I’m a dismal failure at marketing.

What say you, fellow writers and readers? Have you noticed this apparent disconnect between reviews and writing quality?

Words related to writing

Visualizing Your Characters and Reviewing Other Authors: Two More from WSW

Two more posts on the Writers Supporting Writers blog: Chuck Litka’s thoughts on how we picture the characters we create can be found HERE

And HERE, another video chat, this time on the benefits and pitfalls of reviewing and being reviewed by other authors.

Image by prettysleepy1 on Pixabay

She Who Comes Forth by Audrey Driscoll

I was thrilled to read this review by J.F. Kaufmann of She Who Comes Forth. Of course, I have to share it!

JF Kaufmann, Author

The first book I read this year left me frustrated. I was way more fortunate with my second read in 2021 – She Who Comes Forth by Audrey Driscoll.

I really enjoyed this mystery novel set in the early 1960s Egypt and was sorry to part with it, which is always a good sign – an emotional and mental relationship with a book doesn’t happen out of nowhere.

It has a thrilling plot, believable, multifaceted characters, and a delightful touch of spookiness. It also has somethingelse, and I’ll try to explain it.

I’ve been dazzled by Ancient Egypt since I was a child. You don’t need to believe in pseudo-scientific hypotheses about its origins to become fascinated with Egypt – I certainly don’t — but once you learn a little bit more about this incredible civilization, you can’t ignore the mysteries, the unknown and unexplained that surround it…

View original post 196 more words

open book against blue sky with white clouds

My Best Reads of 2020, Part 3: The Final Seven

Here are reviews of seven more books to round out my best reads for this strange year.

Death’s Detective (Malykant Mysteries #1-4) by Charlotte E. English

Book Description:
Konrad Savast is the Malykant: foremost and most secret servant of the God of Death. His job? To track down the foulest of murderers and bring them to The Malykt’s Justice. No mercy. No quarter.

My Review:
The book consists of four novella-length stories, all of which feature Konrad Savast and his friend the apothecary Irinanda Falenia. Each of the four presents a murder for which retribution must be delivered, but supernatural justice is quite different from that found in most detective stories.
The city of Ekamet, in which the stories are set, is dark, cold, and gloomy. It’s almost always snowing, raining, or blowing. Nearby is the weird Bone Forest, where Konrad has a hut on stilts. It features in every one of the stories, adding its own brand of shivery attraction. Most of the characters’ names have a Russian flavour, and there’s a nineteenth-century feel to the place, but it’s entirely fictitious.
Even though the stories are about death and strangeness, Konrad and Irinanda’s conversations are lightened with humorous banter. Their friendship is an overarching theme of the four episodes, along with the difficulties that come with the job of Malykant and how Konrad copes with them. His spirit-serpent helpers, Eetapi and Ootapi, also furnish the odd subplot as well as unexpected funny moments.
I recommend this book to readers who enjoy cozy mysteries with an additional touch of Slavic-style shivers.

The Termite Queen. Volume One: The Speaking of the Dead, and Volume Two: The Wound That Has No Healing by Lorinda J. Taylor

Book Description:
In the 30th century, an off-world expedition returns to Earth with a specimen of giant termite whose behavior suggests intelligence. Kaitrin Oliva, a strong-willed and ambitious young linguistic anthropologist, is charged with finding a way to access its unique form of bioelectric communication. However, the insect dies and the team members realize too late that they have unintentionally murdered an intelligent lifeform. A second expedition is mounted with the purpose of making first contact and reparations. Griffen Gwidian, the entomologist heading the expedition, is a complex man with a dark personal secret. He falls in love with Kaitrin and against her better instincts Kaitrin responds. The result is a love story by turns turbulent and funny, passionate, tender, and troubled. Meanwhile, civil discord is brewing on the termite planet. Ultimately, the two plotlines intersect in an explosive climax, after which the team must return to Earth and try to come to terms with what they have experienced.

My Review:
I have to admit I was hesitant to read these books (even though I’ve read and enjoyed several others by this author) because they are in part about giant termites. Big bugs. How could a book featuring big bugs, however intelligent, be anything but off-putting? I’m happy to say it’s not so, and I’m glad I decided to read The Termite Queen.
This is a multi-dimensional and ambitious work. Set in the 30th century, its characters include several species of non-human intelligent life forms besides the giant termites. Even more, the author has invented languages for these life forms. These conlangs give depth and richness to the reading experience.
This may sound intimidating, but The Termite Queen is eminently readable, with clear, coherent prose and careful pacing. The scenes that include only termite characters are written rather like scenes from a play, and indeed the sub-plot involving these creatures resembles a Shakespearean drama. The primary termite characters are distinct and memorable, although their intricate names took a bit of getting used to.
Kaitrin Oliva, the linguistic anthropologist, is a sympathetic character. Her part of the story involves both her academic interests and the development of a significant personal relationship. Important background details of the future society in which the story is set are artfully conveyed in a way that enhances the reading experience.
Volume One is an absorbing read because of the clever combination of familiar human story elements with boldly original ones.
The primary focus of Volume Two is Kaitrin Oliva’s recovery from the traumatic events that conclude Volume One. This process involves revisiting many of the events of the first book from a psychological point of view. At times I felt the story bogged down in these details. but there are intriguing aspects, such as parallels between ancient Welsh mythology and the 30th century tragedy.
I re-read both books recently (October 2020) and changed my rating of Volume Two to 5 stars because I better appreciated its poignant interweaving of language, culture, storytelling, and spirituality.

Innerscape Omnibus by A.C. Flory

Book Description:
Welcome to Innerscape, a virtual reality in which anything is possible, even murder. Includes Book 1, Miira; Book 2, The Godsend; Book 3, Nabatea.

My Review:
Having greatly enjoyed Miira, Book 1 of this work, I was delighted when this omnibus edition, comprising all three books, became available earlier this year. I intended to read it slowly, savouring the strange setting and intricate plot, but that didn’t work out. In Book 2, The Godsend, the tension ratchets up to an unbearable degree. I simply had to know how things turned out for Miira, Kenneth, and Jaimie. These characters have so many strikes against them to start with that the new complications, resulting from greed, deception, and brutal self-interest on the part of those around them, are totally compelling.
The setting is Australia in the 22nd century. Climate change has altered the environment to the extent that those who can afford it live in domed communities. But the Residents of Innerscape, a select and privileged group, can travel–virtually–almost anywhere–to Paris, for example, or the ancient city of Petra, or Japan. They can also enter hyper-realistic gaming worlds. In reality, though, these individuals’ surgically altered physical selves are sealed in confinement units, kept alive by advanced technology. That means they’re totally dependent on the technology working as intended, a fact that makes them vulnerable to clever and inventive individuals pursuing hidden agendas. And there are plenty of those.
The point of view shifts from one character to another at times, but the shifts are clearly signalled and not confusing in the least. The plot moves along steadily, building on previous incidents and revelations. Along the way, the reader is treated to vivid images of places, technological wonders, and characters’ clothing and physical characteristics — enough to create thrills but not so much as to be tedious. This contrasts chillingly with brief glimpses of a dystopian world, especially the truly frightening penal system.
Altogether, these three books combine human drama with a futuristic vision that add up to an engrossing read with a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion. I recommend them to any reader who enjoys a glimpse beyond the boundaries of present day reality.

One Night in Bridgeport by Mark Paxson

Book Description:
Jack McGee is on his way to having it all — a promising legal career, marriage to his high school sweetheart, and a happy normal life — when his boss sends him to do some legal work in Bridgeport, California. There he meets a gorgeous local girl, Lea Rogers, and he throws caution to the wind — for one night.
The next morning, Jack panics when he realizes what he’s risked and rushes home, content to leave Bridgeport, Lea, and their steamy night together buried forever. A few days later, Jack loses everything when he is arrested for rape and hauled back to Bridgeport, a small town full of secrets and intrigue and citizens determined to destroy Jack.
One Night in Bridgeport is an intriguing tale of lust and vengeance, and of one man’s desperate attempt to salvage his life.

My Review:
This realistic legal thriller shows how it feels to be a man accused of rape. Its methodically constructed plot benefits greatly from the author’s firsthand knowledge of legal processes. Jack, the main character, although innocent of the crime with which he’s charged, is immature, often petulant, and at times downright annoying. His lawyer, Tammy Evans, is tough but sympathetic. Watching her deal with Jack and do her job, both in and out of the courtroom, was a pleasure.
The book is fast-paced, even as it shows that legal processes take a wearisomely long time. Jack makes his initial bad choice in summer, but winter arrives before his trial begins. The third person omniscient point of view shows the thoughts and actions of different characters, but at times the narrator steps away from the story to explain things to the reader. I found that helpful but a little jarring. I also appreciated the descriptions of Bridgeport (a real place) and environs.

The Inn at the Edge of Light by Michael Graeme

Book Description:
Do you think you’ve only the one life to live? Well, how about two, at the same time, or maybe more? And if you think that sounds complicated you’d be right. So, beware of dreams of the Inn at the Edge of Light in case you go to sleep in one life and wake up in another.
In the summer of ’87, Chris Marshal travels to the Western Isles of Scotland and spends the night in a remote mountain hut. There, he’s joined by an adventurous backpacker, Jen Munroe, who invites him to go with her on the trip of a lifetime, just the two of them, hiking along the old Hippy trail, all the way to India.
But Chris is shy of and afraid of this bold, confident woman, so he says no, then wakes the following morning to find her gone. It’s then he realizes going with her was actually the one thing his life actually needed, that he’s now doomed to spend the rest of it searching, for the essence of what it was he lost that day.

My Review:
This book is written in second person present tense. The person experiencing the events that make up the plot isn’t “he” or “I,” but “you.” It took me a while to get used to that, but I’m glad I kept reading. The experience was like undoing a tight knot in a string, maddening but ultimately worth the effort when the tightly twisted strands loosen and open up.
The main character is at times a young man, at others middle-aged and living in a harsh world where the social order is collapsing into chaos. The time period ranges from the 1980s to the 21st century, a near future projected from the actual present. Scenes circle from the inn of recurring dreams to episodes in Chris’s real life (referred to as “topside”). At first, it’s all pretty obscure, but eventually patterns and a sense of progress emerge.
The narrative is full of symbols and references to mythology, psychology and philosophy. Recurring images include Scotch whiskey, bottles (with and without messages), watches, cameras, keys, and a pebble. There are references to the enneagram, inner journeys, and mystical quests. Almost all the action is interior, a scrutiny of Chris’s memories, thoughts, expectations, and hopes. It’s almost claustrophobic at times, but ultimately, the knot opens to an ending that, although ambiguous, is satisfying. This is a book I will think about for a long time and probably re-read at some point.

Beneath the Lanterns by C. Litka

Book Description:
No good deed goes unpunished.
The historian Kel Cam enjoyed a pleasant life in Azera, the colorful capital of the Azere Empire. In the dark days, he taught classes at the University. In the bright days, he traveled the wide steppes to visit Blue Order communities, seeking clues about the mysterious, long dead civilization of the Elders in their libraries of ancient texts. However, when his best friend, Lefe Sol, the son of the ruler of Azere, discovers that his father has arranged his marriage to Ren Loh, the fourth daughter of the Empress of Jasmyne, Kel offers to stand by and help Lefe deal with his unexpected, and unwanted, bride-to-be. Kel soon finds himself caught up in the intrigues of empires which not only upset his well ordered life – they lay it to ruin.
Beneath the Lanterns is an old fashioned novel of adventure and travel set in an imaginary land – a land of colorful cities, sweeping steppes, and lush valleys littered with the ruins of a lost advanced civilization. It is a world of sixteen days of day light under the Yellow Lantern and sixteen days of night lit by the Blue Lantern. And across this wide and wild world under the Yellow and Blue Lanterns, Kel Cam finds that he must flee for his freedom, if not his life.

My Review:
There are really only two important characters in this book: scholar Kel Cam and the eccentric Ren Loh. Brought up by her father as one of his Imperial Lancers, Ren is dead set against the marriage her mother has arranged for her. Kel’s friendship with the prospective bridegroom gets him entangled with Ren early in the book, and the rest of the story is about how the two of them work things out while eluding the clutches of those who want to drag Ren back to the politically expedient marriage. Kel is serious and methodical; Ren is an adventurous risk-taker. To escape discovery, the two disguise themselves as caravan guards and later as pilgrims to a mystical city. More than once, Kel hopes he’s seen the last of her, but chance, and eventually loyalty, keep bringing them together. Engaging secondary characters include a dog with personality and a couple of horses.
Well, there is another noteworthy “character,” and that is the world in which the action takes place. The landscapes and urban scenes reminded me of old China, but the long days and nights under the Yellow and Blue Lanterns suggested a different world. Places called Cauldrons, of unstable ground and toxic gases, resemble volcanic features, but not exactly. Remnants of the Elder Civilization are also tantalizing, for example the building material called “poured stone” and the enormously tall Blue Lantern Tower. That’s another thing–the story is full of colour, starting with the two Lanterns. There is a White City, a Green City and communities of something called the Blue Order. I would love to learn more about this world.
As the author’s description says, this is indeed an old-fashioned adventure story, with comradeship, conflict, hard choices, and narrow escapes. It reminded me of movies like High Road to China and Romancing the Stone. I hope a sequel is in the works.

Almost all of these books are available in the usual place, but some of them may be acquired at the Smashwords store, which is having an end-of-year sale right now. In fact, two of these titles are permanently free at Smashwords.

Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of these 2020 reviews.