The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh

The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh

By: Steven S. Drachman

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

If I’m being honest, I wasn’t really sure what to think of this book when it showed up on my doorstep.  It is a novel about a time travelling cowboy after all.  I’ve read my fair share of westerns, and probably more than my fair share of science fiction.  But, I don’t think I’ve ever read a western science fiction.  It’s been pretty popular to include elements of the first in the latter recently (see Firefly) and I suppose you could call steampunk something that could be called a mix of the two.

Ghosts is the first in a trilogy of books that follow the main character, Watt O’Hugh, an street urchin turned civil war veteran turned cowboy who manages to find himself twisted up in a grand story of time travelling and western expansion with a little bit of love and gunplay thrown in for good measure.

The book is short.  At just over 200 pages, it almost feels wrong to actually call it a novel.  Especially when, like me, you’re more used to tomes that reach well over three times as many pages.  (see: The Name of the Wind)  It reads much quicker than it’s pages, though, and really reminds me of the old pulp westerns.  Lots of action, not a lot of exposition, but a good solid story that feels fun and entertaining.

If I have to find a flaw with the book, it’s that it really is too short.  I imagine, in the grander scope of the trilogy, that it will redeem itself and fit nicely in the overall story arch.  On it’s own, it just seemed like it was too short and I was left wondering where the rest of the story was.  (presumably in the next two books)

I don’t think you likely need to be a fan of westerns to end up enjoying this book, although it’s much more western than it is science fiction. The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh is a fun, quick read.

Irenicon

Irenicon

By: Aidan Harte

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

Set in some sort of alternative history Europe, Irenicon is a fantastical mash up of traditional fantasy and elements of steampunk and military histories.  The story sucks you in immediately, and then hauls you along for the ride while Harte weaves a tale that’s engrossing and fulfilling.  Even during the slower seeming spots, there’s a message or bit of history that is needed for a later plot point.  It’s an intricate plot that is, as far as I can tell, bulletproof.

The world that Harte has created here is full and rich with amazing detail of martial styles and the emergence of the worlds engineers.  You can almost feel the world teetering on the precipice between the older hand-to-hand combat styles and the new combat styles devised by the engineers.

Much like many other fantasy epics (this is a 500 page first of a trilogy), Irenicon gets a bit wordy at times.  If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, that probably won’t bother you at all.  All of the language in the book is well written, and I never felt that there were any awkward spots that you had to stumble through to get to the next section.

Unlike a few trilogies I’ve begun before it, Irenicon has a good ending to several plot lines.  Some first novels in trilogies like to leave you with no closure at all.  Not that they have to.  I just like when a single book can stand alone on it’s own without the necessity of reading the rest of the series.  Irenicon does that.  It’s the world you’ll read the rest of the series for, not some hanging plot line.

The Martian

The Martian

By Andy Weir

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

At it’s very core, The Martian is about an astronaut that gets accidentally left behind on the surface of Mars.  He’s injured in an accident as he and the rest of the astronauts are evacuating the planet due to an extreme wind storm.  The injury causes the rest of his team to believe he is dead, and they are unable to find his body due to the wind and dust, and continue with the evacuation before they are unable to.

He wakes up, with a dead biomonitor, part of a communications antenna sticking through a hole in his suit, and no way to get off of the planet.  The rest of the book is about how he battles his new situation, and finds ways to extend his life expectancy.

When I started the book, I was expecting that to be the story.  And it was.  However, there was much more to it than that.  Almost the entire book is written in a form of narrative first person through Mark Watney’s (he’s the astronaut) log files.  He’s creating the log files as a way to log the things he’s done so that if anyone from NASA ever recovers his body and the equipment, they’ll know that he was alive, and the things that he did.

Through Watney’s personal log, and the personality that he shows through his words, the story becomes so much more than just an account of an astronaut trapped on Mars.  The character of Watney is written so well, that the reader finds themselves sucked into the very human story, and the situation that he finds himself in.  Watney shares, in his logs, the struggles that he has, the victories, and even the frustrations he has with his fellow astronauts selection of music and television shows.

It’s a bit difficult to critique the actual writing of the book, as it’s meant to be read as log entries, so the flow can be somewhat erratic.  However, Weir delivers in a big way with the style of the book.  I was immediately sucked into the story, and ended up finishing the book in a marathon reading session that left me with way too little sleep the next day.  The last half of the book is quickly paced, and very hard to put down.

The Martian is an excellent book, and I’d highly recommend it if you’re any kind of sci-fi reader at all.

Shovel Ready


Shovel Ready

By: Adam Sternbergh

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

I don’t even know how best to start with this review.  The book is excellent.  I could just leave it at that and let you read it to find out.  But, that doesn’t leave much for you to decide whether you really want to read it or not.  It’s a sci-fi novel with a heavy dystopian bent.  It tickles all the little post-apocalypse tinglers in my brain.  It’s somehow a mix of the dark world of Blade Runner, with a heavy dose of The Matrix-like artificial reality and cross it all up with your favorite crime thriller.

It’s a mix of all that, and it’s terribly good.  I read it in under a week, which probably is a bit slow for some of you, but with my reading habits, that’s about twice as fast as normal.  There were several nights where I picked up my reader and lost total track of what time it was.  Which made for some long mornings, but, as any reader will attest to, getting lost in a book like that is the ultimate joy.

I really don’t know what else I can really tell you about the book without giving away parts of the plot.  Suffice to say, it’s a really good book.  About a garbage man turned hit man.  And a whole lot more.  The future New York City is gritty and dark and sufficiently rooted in the current world to still have some realistic weight.

Give Shovel Ready a try.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

 

Ex-Purgatory


Ex-Purgatory

By: Peter Clines

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

Ex-Purgatory is the fourth novel in the Ex series by Peter Clines.  The first three are Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, and Ex-Communication.

Clines does an interesting thing with this entry into the series.  He takes the characters we’re familiar with from the first three novels and throws them into a world completely different.  A world where the plague never took place, where they’re all just regular old folks without any super powers.  Or, at least, that’s what they believe.  The truth, it seems, is a bit different.

The whole story line is very clever, and Clines pulls it off very well.  I found it fun to read along and find the heroes we know from the series as their “normal” counterparts.  I was even a bit disappointed when I missed a few. :(  There’s plenty of references to pop culture too.

As I mentioned in my reviews of the first two novels in the series, the writing isn’t going to win any awards for literary excellence.  It’s not meant to though.  It’s meant to be fun, light, and easy to cruise through.  And it is.  I tore through the pages, as I was dragged into the story, and the characters again.  I love the world that Clines has created, with it’s mix of Zombies and Superheroes.

It was also fun to see the superheroes struggle with what they perceived as the real world as it was invaded by memories and visions of the world they belonged in.  It didn’t get taken too far, and the resolution was believable.  The only part of the book I was even slightly disappointed with was the ending.  Mostly, that was because it felt like the overall resolution was a bit quick.  But, I also got the feeling that there’s another book in the works and so maybe some of that will carry over into the next.

If you’re a fan of Zombies, or Superheroes, I don’t think you can go wrong by reading this series.  Obviously, start with Ex-Heroes, but if you’re already into the series, certainly continue on with Ex-Purgatory.

Self Publishing: Still No Room for Crap

Many years ago, self-publishing got it’s bad rap because the quality wasn’t there.  Self-published books were usually inferior in design and inferior in materials.  Picking up a book, you could easily tell it had been self-published.  If the xerox’d pages didn’t give it away, it was the terrible bindings (or three-ring binder encasing it).  In quite a few of the cases, it was also the inferior quality of the contents too.  But, even then, there were many that did it right.  They paid the extra money for a quality design.  They paid the extra money for the quality materials.  And, they put in the time and effort to publish quality content.

Now, with the greater availability (and reduced costs) of self-publishing, more and more books are being self published.  More and more big names are self pubbing their stuff.  Self publishers have access to the same design and materials that many of the big name publishers have access to.  Amazon has started it’s own imprints using the same services that many self publishing authors will use.  But, even with all that increased access, there still seems to be a stigma to self publishing.  In many ways, it’s an earned stigma.  Many people still expect something that’s been self published to be crap.

Chuck Wendig wrote a terribly good post on his site terribleminds (see what I did there? terribly good … terribleminds… ) about self publishing not being the minor leagues.  It starts off a little bit like a defense of self publishing, but it turns into something much better.  It’s a call to authors to be the artists that they can be.  It’s a call to not settle for the crap, but to refine it, polish it, and publish the diamond that was hidden in the refuse.

If we’re going to admit that self-publishing is an equal choice, then it’s time to step up and act like it. It’s time to stop acting like the little brother trailing behind big sister. Time to be practical. And professional.

Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.

There’s a whole lot more to the post, but that’s what really stuck out to me.  Self publishing isn’t that much different from traditional publishing.  You still need to put out your best work.  You can’t settle for good enough, or “mom liked it” and expect to have any better results.  Say what you want about readers, but they aren’t stupid.  They aren’t going to suddenly buy your self published crap just because self publishing is more widely accepted.  But, they will buy your self published masterpieces.  But, they have to be masterpieces.  They will buy your art if you present them art “with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.”

What are you polishing today?

Swords of Good Men


Swords of Good Men

By: Snorri Kristjansson

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

The back of my ARC of this novel calls it “AN EPIC VIKING SAGA ABOUT THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE OLD GODS AND THE NEW”.  I really wish they wouldn’t have done that.  Maybe they were talking about the entire series?  Even so.  It’s hardly within the realm of the jacket copy folks to decide whether a story is “EPIC” or not.  It unfairly sets the book up for failure if you ask me.  The reader goes into the story expecting some broad story of epic proportions.  I don’t think they got that in this first novel.  It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not, in my eyes, an epic novel either.

The language is good throughout which is sometimes hit or miss with a translation.  The translation team here did a pretty good job. (ooops.  It’s not really a translation. I made the assumption, and I was wrong.) It’s quite obvious that Kristjansson knows a great deal about the viking life and took great care in crafting the viking world that he sets the story in.  The characters are good, but could have done with a bit more development.  Some of them were very quickly glanced over in the beginning and middle of the book, only to become somewhat important cogs to the story towards the end.  I don’t think they needed to be main characters, but they went from being what I would call “filler” characters to being integral characters.

The plot and story is very good.  It draws you into the world, and the lives of the characters easily.  As the series continues, I expect that the “conflict between the old gods and the new” will become more pitched and more evident.  Even here, as we set up for it, there’s plenty of action, and a good job is done of contrasting the old norse gods and the new “white Christ”.

I especially enjoyed the level of detail that Kristjansson put into the world and the main characters.  It never felt forced, and wasn’t filled with long prose filled paragraphs of explanation.

I’m not sure what genre this book really is going to land in.  I suppose you could call it a historical fiction, but I also want to call it a fantasy.   It’s certainly more rooted in the historical fiction category though.  Swords of Good Men will be a book to watch if that’s your genre of choice, as will the series.  The series might live up to the “epic” tag.

Dark Talisman

Dark Talisman

By: Steven M. Booth

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

Dark Talisman tells the story of Altira, a Dark Elf, who is thrown out of her home after it’s discovered that she robbed the Sultan.  It wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to be doing, since the Sultan is an ally, but all she did was steal a few gems.  Hardly worth banishment.  Quickly, Altira finds herself deep into a plot that has many folds and reveals.  Not all of them are completely hidden, and I did see a few of them coming, but nothing that ruined the story, or even made it unreadable.

This is, technically, classified as a YA fantasy novel, which is fine.  It actually reads a bit higher than that, and was a good read.  The plot moves along quickly, pushing the reader to keep turning the pages and digging deeper into the story.  The world that Booth has built here is well done.  I think it’s hard to build a world with enough detail to properly give the reader the feel of it, while limiting the detail so that it doesn’t become pages of description and explanation.  Booth does both really well here.

The protaganist, Altira, is younger (usual for a YA), and as such, has a few naive flaws, that were sometimes a bit annoying.  I think it went a bit too far, and didn’t give the character enough credit to be resourceful on her own.  She kept having to be distrustful, and then be proved wrong when the people she couldn’t trust come back to save her.  Maybe the combination of her age and being a Dark Elf made it seem like she needed to be that way?  I just think it could have been dialed back a bit.

That’s a pretty minor quibble, if you ask me.  Dark Talisman is a good book, with a heroine, which is good in a YA fantasy novel, I think.  If you’re a fan of fantasy novels, and want something with a lighter (e.g. not 600+ pages) feel, Dark Talisman is worth checking out.

Mage’s Blood

Mage’s Blood

By David Hair

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

Mage’s Blood is the first in a planned quartet of books.  Much like any fantasy novel with the same scope, the book follows the threads and lives of several groups of people.  Also like any fantasy novel with the same scope, this first book spends a great deal of time building the world and building the magic system that drives much of the story.

The world Hair builds here is very similar in both naming and culture  to Europe and the Middle East.  It’s well built, but was a bit distracting to me as I attempted to compare the places to their real-life counterparts.  In many ways, the book read like a historical fiction, without the direct ability to link the places and events.  The same was true for the names of the months that he used, except that they were stuck somewhere in between familiar and completely different that I spent even more time struggling to figure out how they fit and in what order.  In many ways, I wish that Hair had made more effort in making the world and namings more unique.  It’s unfortunate that a story that was as good as this one kept being interrupted by my mind wandering to figure out the names.

The story is a good one though, if you can get past all that.  The writing is good, and the story moves along at a very good pace. One of the mistakes that authors of epic fantasy make is to write the characters in such a way that they are hard to follow.  They’re names are too similar, or they are written too similar. Hair’s characters were extremely well written, and easy to follow.  One of the benefits of  the similarities in name and place that I mentioned above was that the cultures were pretty similar as well.  In that case, it was helpful in quickly understanding some of the cultural happenings.

Overall, the book is a good one.  The story is well written, and the plot flows nicely.  Aside from the small issues that I mentioned above, I could find little else that was wrong with the book.  When completed, the Moontide Quartet, of which Mage’s Blood is the first book, will likely be thought of as one of the best examples, in recent memory, of epic fantasy.

 

Fiend

Fiend

By: Peter Stenson

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

What if the Zombie apocalypse came and the only survivors were addicts?  It’s not a premise that you hear often when discussing the zombie genre.  That’s the premise of Fiend, the breakout novel of Peter Stenson.  Written from the perspective of Chase Daniels, a meth addict, who comes out of a bender to find the world he knew forever changed, Fiend is a blazing fast read.

I found this book to be a somewhat borderline book for me.  The style is something that I just didn’t mesh with.  Dialogue is strewn into the prose with no clear identification, leaving the reader to figure out what was said and what was thought.  Maybe that was the purpose, but I struggled with it.  The three main characters were moderately well developed, but needed more.  And most of the secondary characters barely got a name and a few physical characteristics.  And, while it’s dubbed as a zombie novel, if you’re planning on buying it strictly for the zombie genre it falls into, you might want to pass on it.

It is a zombie novel, but the zombies felt like little more than scenery that chased the characters into the different situations they found themselves in.  Instead, the novel is far more a deeply moving story about addiction and how it plays in peoples lives.  From the start, the characters are embroiled in the paranoia, withdrawals, and overall addiction and the real story is in how they deal with the end of their world and adapt to the new world they’re thrust into.

Without giving too much away, it’s a sad story, as most stories about addiction tend to be.  Throughout, I found myself empathizing with the characters, as they struggled with the life and death scenarios they fell into, and how they slipped in and out of their addictive fogs.

Fiend is a dark tale about addiction that happens to feature some zombies.  The characters, while not fully developed, drew me into their lives and the story of their attempts at survival.  Don’t buy the book just because it has zombies in it.  Buy the book because you want to read a story that is, ultimately, almost uncomfortably human.