Children of Blood and Bone

It’s been a tough few months, I tell you. Life has been very interesting, in some ways very good, and some quite bad. I’m finally getting over my insomnia, something I’ve struggled with for years (see this post about what it’s really like to live with it). I’m enjoying my job as a full-time book editor. I have two wonderful boys, even after years of infertility. My kids are healthy and happy, for the most part. I’m healthy. My husband’s physical health is doing better. I have amazing neighbors, friends, and family, on both my side of the family and his, who have been my shoulders to cry on, listening ears, sounding boards, examples, and confidantes. I just got to vote. My family and I have enough to eat each and every day. We live in a comfortable home. I’ll never run out of books to read, or, for that matter, hobbies to enjoy.

But, my marriage is in a whole new phase of hard. My husband has some issues. I have some issues. Together, we have some issues we haven’t been able to resolve, even after 19 years of marriage. We’re both committed to staying together, at least for the sake of our kids, if not also because we’re not yet ready to abandon what he and I have worked so hard for years to build (our family and a stable financial situation) nor on the possibility, however small, that we can figure out how to overcome our problems.

So, I just keep plugging away, taking each day as it comes, praying, helping others, accepting their help, and doing my best. Writing. And reading. Most recently, I finished listening to Children of Blood and Bone Tomi Adeyemi. I have never read a more vibrant, dramatic book than this one. Holy freaking cow. Even through it’s 85 chapters (yes, 85), I was spellbound. This is a book that anyone who likes to be immersed or completely transported by a book should get. It had everything: a unique and well-developed setting, a fast-moving but rational plot, and a magic system that was unique and fundamentally integrated into the characters’ identities and the advancement of the plot. Its three main characters were all fully developed: complex and capable of being understood in both their good and bad choices. It was very interesting, in fact, to observe that most of their choices were based on their reactions to fear. Indeed, fear and all of its variations, as well as the myriad ways that humans react to it, seemed to me to be the ubiquitous theme of this book.

What Was Children of Blood and Bone About?

Before the story of Blood and Bone begins, some traumatic events happened to the characters, and they have lived in fear ever since. Zélie Adebola, one of the three main characters, used to have magic, but it was ripped away from her and her people.  She remembers when “Burners” ignited flames, “Tiders” beckoned waves, and her “Reaper” mother summoned forth souls. But then, under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good, in his father’s name. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Who Would Like/Not Like Children of Blood and Bone, and Why?

In Zélie we see those people who react to fear with anger and a desire for revenge. In Amari, the “rogue princess” and second main character, we see those who are shut down and paralyzed by it. And in Inan, the crown prince, we see those who try to channel it into something they think is more virtuous, like duty.  In all of them, we see the effects of the never-ending dichotomy that we humans in the real world always seem to be entrapped in: the belief that the only thing that matters is who has the power and who doesn’t. This book, like much of human history, is a reflection of the fact that very few people can see other options, other ways to live outside of that dichotomy. Yet, like Zélie, Amari, and Inan, there are many who desperately want those options, especially when that dichotomy takes away family members and those they love.

In fact, Tomi Adeyemi, the author herself, expresses that desire for an alternative very strongly in the author’s note at the end of the book. In it, she explains that, while the story is fictional, the emotions portrayed by the characters are very real, fueled by shootings of black men by white police. And those emotions are very real, gut-wrenching even. I felt them in the book; I feel them whenever I hear of anyone unarmed getting shot by the police, but especially when I hear of unarmed black men getting shot by white police. But yet, Tomi, like I and many others, stops short of identifying what those options might look like. It’s like she’s as trapped as Zélie, Inan, and Amari, and the rest of us in the real world in this never-ending cycle of pain inflicted and felt, where it’s only too easy to see what or who is causing the pain, but almost impossible to see a concrete way to stop it.

I would even go so far as to say that we’re like Amari, the daughter of the ruthless and vengeful king. She emerges from her paralyzing fear of him to (spoiler alert) strike down its source, only to realize as she’s doing so that the very act makes her just like the source (end spoiler). She wonders, as do I and as should everyone else alive today: is there another way, besides striking down the source, to make everyone see the cycle for what it is and work together to make it stop?

Personally, I think, and as this book (and Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson, and Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, and many others) shows, the trouble comes with power. We humans appoint people to be in charge so we don’t have to deal with the complexities of managing large groups of different peoples, or the punishment of those who’ve done wrong, and then get mad when those people abuse their power. The truth is that, if we were to analyze all human leaders over time and across the present, we would find that the majority don’t handle it well. And I would be willing to wager that that is caused more by the power structures of human societies than by weaknesses in the men themselves. Very few men or women can handle, I think, any significant power being bestowed on them without becoming hungry for more, greedy, myopic (i.e., focused only on the group of people they’re supposed to protect to the exclusion of others), violent, jaded, or paranoid.

But does this mean that we should excuse the actions of any and all leaders, whether they be kings, presidents, police officers, teachers, parents, etc., if they abuse their powers? Of course not! Maybe the answer—the third option, if you will—is more complex than that. Actually, more complex and more simple. Maybe it requires that each of us take more responsibility for our spheres of influence, helping (or at least proactively trying to understand) our neighbors near and far. Maybe it requires that we get more involved in our communities both off- and on-line, not just being civil but proactively warm-hearted and grateful, like the man in the video below explains. Maybe it requires that we make our power structures more diffuse so that no one person has too much power. Maybe it requires that we love and forgive everyone, as seemingly impossible as that is.

 

Is all of that too idealistic? Decidedly so. Too difficult to execute? For sure. Necessary for us to stop police brutality (or any kind of abuse), despots, mass public shootings, wars, etc.? Probably. It’s certainly better than the power dichotomy, or the reactions to fear that each of the three main characters of Children of Blood and Bone represents. After all, aren’t we all, quite literally, children of blood and bone ourselves? Isn’t that, at least, a starting point: our shared humanity?

But then, maybe the best reaction—and the example of the solution for us—is found not in any of those characters, but in another one altogether, that of Zane, Zélie’s brother. Though we’re never really allowed into his head, we see, through his actions, that his focus is on protecting his family, and her in particular. That focus seems to make it hard for feelings like bitterness or anger to take root in his soul. Even though he has a hard time understanding Zelie and the choices she makes, which often put her and him in danger, he can’t not protect. He, in my mind, is the hero of the story. If I could be like him, focused on the protection of not only my immediate family but also my whole human family, I think I would have less reason to fear for the future.

So, Should You Buy This Book?

I would go so far as to say it should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand what it feels like to be oppressed (which should be all of us). I’d venture even farther by saying that you’re cheating yourself if you don’t get the Audible version. Bahni Turpin’s rendering of the accents and emotions of the characters makes listening to the book a truly immersive experience, somewhere between a book and movie (just without pictures). Children of Blood and Bone, though set in a fictional world with magic we know nothing of, is an accurate and gut-wrenching reflection of how humans handle power and fear. Hopefully, we can take from it the motivation, the example, and maybe even a magic of our own making to make this real world a better place.

What’s the Deal?

Between Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BetterWorldBooks, Thriftbook, BooksAMillion, and eBooks, Barnes & Noble had the best price, at $10.76 for a paperback copy.

Nutrition Facts, Anyone?

Because I listened to it on audiobook, as opposed to read it on my Kindle, I can’t give you an exact count of instances of profanity, sex, violence, positive themes, or negative ones. I can tell you, however, that there is a lot of violence and death, some swearing, no sex but some kissing, lots of positive themes like familial love, charity, devotion, and a good many negative ones, like revenge, greed for power, killing for sport, etc.

American Family, A Review and a Giveaway

Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why one likes or dislikes a book. Other times, it’s easy. For me, as a professional book editor, frequent book beta reader and reviewer,  and writer, it’s easier than it might be for some. That doesn’t mean, however, that if I dislike a book, it’s for reasons that I think other people will share. Even if I think a book is technically deficient, with too much “telling” versus “showing,” for example, someone else might still think that book is great.  Obviously, not every book is every person’s “cup of tea.” Such is the case with Jackson Baer’s An American Family.

This is a contemporary suspense thriller about a family whose wife and mother disappears suddenly. She just vanishes while out running one evening, and Isaac, her husband, and Ramie and Carter, their two adult children, are left to figure out how hard they should look for her when there are absolutely no leads, or whether they should move on with their lives. It wasn’t my cup of tea, for various technical reasons and because I didn’t connect at all with the characters, but fans of mystery and contemporary books might appreciate what An American Family tries to accomplish.

What is An American Family About?

From GoodReads:

Isaac Childs has the perfect life—until that life comes crashing down when his wife Ramie vanishes. Isaac learns that his wife’s disappearance is the ninth in a string of similar cases. In the wake of this news, he struggles to cope, to be a good father to his daughter and college-bound son, and to reclaim something of an ordinary life even as he conceals his troubled past. After the FBI makes an arrest, and his wife is presumed dead, Isaac begins to move on. Yet will his secrets catch up with him? Has he conquered his vices for good? And what of the FBI’s theory that the case isn’t completely resolved, after all?

It takes place over the course of two years, starting with the day after Ramie’s disappearance. This scope, in my mind, was the first of this book’s challenges. While it allowed Isaac, Olivia, and Carter, lots of time to examine their lives closely and work to fix a lot of the personal issues that came to the forefront in the emotional aftermath of Ramie’s absence, it also cast perhaps too large of a net. In trying to show how each of them coped over those two years, it wasn’t as strong as it could have been if it had focused on just Isaac’s struggles or just Olivia’s, I think.

More About American Family

Isaac’s come to the forefront almost immediately as he remembers a past one-night stand that he had. He paid the girl (a minor at the time) to keep quiet and never told anyone about it, not even his son when he started dating the same girl. These facts alone make him hard to relate to and support, even though he was the main character and I wanted to root for him. I wanted him to get his wife back, and for them to be happy. If he had been more tormented by his indiscretion, more honest, more forthcoming, I could have been. It wasn’t that he wasn’t haunted or emotionless, but it felt like those emotions were only given a little bit of lip service. Baer does in fact state that “many nights, Isaac woke to frightening dreams where he would see Ramie. Sometimes she was happy, other times she wasn’t breathing.” But that was such a small part of the narrative, as was the fact that we, as readers, are told this, rather than allowed to experience it with Isaac, say, in a particularly haunting dream from which he wakes up shaking or crying.

Jackson Baer

Which brings me to another technical detail that got in the way of my enjoyment of the book, but which might not bother other people. There are several instances of “telling versus showing,” meaning that we’re told about certain details or character emotions rather than given the opportunity to live through the discovery of those details or the feelings of those emotions with the characters. The third-person narrator, for instance, tells of a pill addiction that Ramie used to have that caused her to crash the family car into a tree a few years before her disappearance. The detectives tasked with solving her disappearance, in combing through every detail of Isaac’s and Ramie’s past lives, discover this and question him about it, but he doesn’t tell them anywhere near the truth of what caused the accident. The narrator tells us, however, that “this actual accident is the near accident Isaac alluded to when he spoke with the FBI agents earlier.” This relating of facts directly from the narrator to the reader took me out of the story completely for a moment, when I was already struggling to stay in it.

Likewise, when Isaac meets a new woman some months after Ramie’s disappearance, we’re told that he “took notice of this woman’s natural beauty.” I don’t know many men–even my husband–who would see a beautiful woman and think to themselves: “I’m taking notice of this woman’s natural beauty.” They would think: “Wow, she’s got great _____,” or be struck by the color of her eyes or think “I really like her smile.” When a narrator provides those kinds of details about a character’s appearance and how another character perceives that appearance (i.e., what details he/she notices and doesn’t notice), I’m able to get a better picture of how the one character looks and what the perceiving character is really like.

But Isaac isn’t the only character with whom I had a hard time connecting. Olivia, their 17-year-old-ish daughter, is more or less a foil kind of character, one whose reactions to the main character’s actions help us understand those actions a little more deeply. That is, until, she starts dating her therapist, who is 12 years older than her. One of them is white, the other is black, and they’re both women. I was taken aback by the the fact that the therapist was willing to date someone she initially met as a client. And the relationship that develops between Olivia and the therapist doesn’t seem to relate to Olivia’s grief over her mother’s disappearance, even though she began that therapy in order to understand her feelings regarding it. So, Olivia, in her own way, also seemed a little emotionless and hard to relate to.

Again, though, I realize that most people won’t read a book and like it or dislike it because there are too many instances of telling or too little to relate to in the characters. They connect, or don’t, with the feeling the book gives them. If you like books–especially mysteries or thrillers–that are primarily dark, but move toward a happier resolution, then you’ll probably like An American Family. Along those lines then…

Who Would Like An American Family, And Why?

As mentioned, those who like mysteries, thrillers, dark books, books that move toward happier resolutions, or just books that are contemporary and somewhat broad in scope, will like this book.

What’s the Deal?

As you know, I like to share deals I find on books so that you can find ones you like at low cost. Since An American Family  was just released at the beginning of October, there aren’t any deals on it, but the author is willing to give away two copies, one book each to two lucky winners. One is an e-book and the other is a hard copy. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter.

Also, subscribe to my newsletter for exclusive details on his life and writing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Nutrition Facts, Anyone? (Warning: possible spoilers)

Swear words (d*, f*, h*, g*d*, sh*): 60

sex scenes: 0, although there is allusion to some

LGBTQ+ relationship(s): 1

violence/gore: yes, in the descriptions of the criminal behind Ramie’s disappearance, and the circumstances surrounding it

positive themes (hard work, family, love): 4+

negative themes (dishonesty, infidelity, pedophilia, addiction): 10+

 

Book Review: The Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather

It’s been a busy week getting ready for Halloween, but also one in which I also received a lot of encouragement from my writer friends and reworked my synopsis for Forced. I’m excited to embark on the 7th draft of that manuscript, with a plot that is now more intricate and truer to my character’s natures. Such a process! I finished reading The Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather a while ago, but haven’t had a chance to review it until now. It was an intriguing but ultimately disappointing read. Let me tell you about it.

What Is Atopia Chronicles About?

From GoodReads:

Dr. Patricia Killiam is rushing to help save the world from itself by giving everyone everything they’ve always wanted. The question is: is she unwittingly saving the world only to cast it towards an even worse fate as humanity hurtles across the brink of forever. What could be worse than letting billions die? In the future, be careful what you wish for.  The Atopia Chronicles are an exploration of the meaning love, life and the pursuit of happiness in a world teetering on the brink of post-humanism and eco-Armageddon.

Who Might Like Atopia Chronicles, and Why?

I was intrigued by the premise of this book, and the fact that it was epic sci-fi. But ultimately this book was a disappointment. I only read 68% of the way through, and decided I couldn’t push on any longer. In the form that I read, which was an anthology-like compilation, I think, of several short stories all set in the same world, it was WAY longer than it needed to be.

It was based on a fascinating concept and had a very detailed exploration of a society taken over by technology. It could have been told well in half as many pages and with fewer characters. Also, I almost didn’t read past the first chapter because the first main character is so not likable. If I were Matthew Mather, I would have picked any one but her to start the story.

But, if you’re an epic sci-fi fan, and are into thorough world-building, I would definitely recommend this book.

What’s the Deal?

The Kindle version is $4.99.

 

A man underwater, with hands in a prayer-like gesture, above the words "Stranger in a Strange Land"

Want Some Philosophical Sci-Fi? Read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land

Starting a new senior editor job while still very actively reading, writing my books, critiquing and editing others’, networking with other readers, writers, and book bloggers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, AND feeding my family, taking care of our house, and helping others is a lot of work, but I’m enjoying it! I like being busy, and recognize that every opportunity to associate with other awesome people, every day with decent health and good sleep, every moment with my kids (who I wasn’t sure I’d be able to have, as I recounted here), every opportunity to work and earn money is a BLESSING. And you people who read my reviews, chat with me on social media, or follow me: you’re all wonderful.

Some true reviewers of science fiction books would say I’m not a real science fiction fan until I’ve read and reviewed at least one Robert Heinlein book. Heinlein was known as the “dean of science fiction writers.” He was named the first Science Fiction Grand Master ever. Four of his books won Hugo awards, which are the pinnacle of recognition for the sci-fi genre. Because I admire him as a writer, have a goal to read the rest of his works, and want you to be well-informed, let me tell you about Stranger In a Strange Land.

What is Stranger in a Strange Land About?

The premise is interesting: a man raised by Martians comes to Earth and learns its customs, but because he has learned other powers, eventually starts his own church.

Who Would Like Stranger in a Strange Land, And Why?

If you’re a fan of literary fiction—the kind that revels in long narrative and beautiful speech, you’ll like this book. If you like esoteric characters or philosophical examinations of religion, you’ll like this book.  I liked the first half of the book, although it was a bit slow and cumbersome for me. The second half started getting too strange, so I didn’t finish. But that’s just me.

What’s the Deal?

You can get Stranger in a Strange Land from Thriftbooks.com for $3.79.

Visual, Anyone?

via GIPHY

Do you have a favorite science fiction author? If so, tell me in the comments!

Happy Books: A Comparison

I’ve been reading several self-help books lately to help me through some tough times, and I’ve reached a decision. Actually, multiple decisions. One: job hunts are not fun. (Fortunately, mine just ended. Yay!) Two: talking things out with close family, friends, and good therapists helps me a lot. Three: all self-help books are different from each other. No one should go to any one self-help book and expect a definitive answer or answers to all of their challenges. That being said, every self-help book that I’ve read has offered a piece of what I’ve needed. To help you find whatever help you might need, I provide a short description of seven self-help books and a comparison of how they rank on a few important features, which I’ll explain.

The Value(s) of a Self-Help Book

In this context, a self-help book is any nonfiction book that deals primarily with the improvement of self-perception in the reader. This could be for the purpose of helping that reader have a better marriage, career, or family life. The list I’ve compiled here is no more a representation of all the self-help books on the market than I am a representation of all humanity, or even of all book reviewers. But this list is comprised of books that focus on self-improvement for the sake of improving happiness.

I rank them on these metrics:

Credibility

Some of the best general how-to books I’ve read were by people who weren’t PhDs but had lots of personal experience and had done a lot of research. Conversely, some of the worst how-to books I’ve read have been by people with PhDs. So the credibility of a self-help book’s author(s) isn’t necessarily their education level in the subject matter, although that is a factor. It’s also determined, in my mind, by their personal experience with the topic, the amount of research they’ve done on it, and the types of source material they draw from for that research. If an author quotes several Huffington Post articles as their main documentation, if you will, for humanity’s depravity, they aren’t as credible as one who pulls from multiple academic studies, original pieces discussing patterns of depravity over time, and from current events as related by people who were present at those events.

Personal Examples

Personal examples from the author’s own life or from those with those he or she has interacted go a long way in convincing me that what they are saying is true or that they truly understand me and why I’m reading their book. Those examples also have value if they show how someone successfully applied a principle from the book

Application/”Workbookiness”

some self-help books offer nugget after nugget of golden wisdom, and while they have value just for that, they’re much better and more valuable if they provide workbook pages, quizzes, call-outs with questions that make you think (and better yet write down) of ways you can implement what they’re saying in your life the very next day. Others are more workbook than they are wisdom.

Humor

Especially on the subject of improving one’s outlook on life, a little bit of humor can go a long way.

Motivation

Some self-help books can leave you more overwhelmed than when you began. The most effective ones are the ones that break things down into manageable chunks, and encourage you from wherever you are.

The Books and Their Rankings

Without further ado, then, I provide rankings between 1 and 5 (with 1 being the highest or best and 5 the lowest or worst) on the above metrics for the following self-help books:

The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Schiraldi, Phd

 

 

 

 

 

You Are a BadA* by Jen Sincero

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, MD

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter, PhD

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

 

 

 

 

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW

 

 

 

Strengths Finder by Tom Rath

 

 

 

 

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW

 

 

 

I don’t rank them in comparison to one other, but rather on a scale of how much value they’ve been to me and how much I think they’ll offer to you. They’re not in any particular order, and I leave it up to you to determine which one is the best for you.

I’ve also looked at the website of five different book retailers to find the best deal on each of these books for you. Those retailers were:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

ThriftBooks

BetterWorldBooks

BooksAMillion

You’ll find the links to those deals if you click on the titles of the books in the table below. They are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click through and buy a book, but it doesn’t change the price of the book for you.

 

 
Credibility
Personal Examples
Application
Humor
Motivation
Self-Esteem Workbook ($5.92) 1 (recommended by my therapist) 4 1 5 1
You Are a BadA* ($8) 2 1 5 1 (warning: guffaws are possible) 2
Feeling Good ($3.79) 1 1 3 5 3
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself ($3.79) 4 5 4 5 2
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ($1.99 Kindle) 1 1 1 (especially if you get a Franklin Day Planner) 4 2
The Gifts of Imperfection ($10.99) 1 1 (so good) 4 2 3
Strengths Finder ($25.63) 1 2 2 4 1
Braving the Wilderness ($14.95) 1 1 5 2 3

 

What books would you add to this list, and why?

Book Review: A Case of Conscience by James Blish, a Heavy Read

Although some authors would probably hate me for saying this, I really wish that every book would come with a big “nutrition facts” label on its spine or back cover. It would list the book’s genre, the number of times (if any) swear words were used, the number of sexual imagery and/or dialogue occurrences, the frequency of violence, positive/neutral/negative themes, alcohol use, positive/neutral/negative role models, etc. I think such facts would help all consumers make more well-informed decisions about their book consumption. Such a label would be far more helpful than an “explicit content,” “parental advisory,” “R,” “PG-13,” “PG,” or “G” rating. Such a label would have been very helpful for me as I decided whether I should review A Case of Conscience by James Blish. It would have looked something like this:

Numbers for occurrences of profanity, sex, and violence are wildly estimated and may have no relation to reality.

Had I read such a label on NetGalley, where I originally heard about the book (a new edition was recently published), I would not have chosen to review it, purely because of the genre. As it was, I read it anyway, and found some things that I really enjoyed. The things that I didn’t like were, for the most part, attributable more to the genre than the specific author or book.

For one, the world building was awesome. The first part of the book takes place on a planet called Lithia, in an age when interstellar travel is no big deal and Earth’s government sends scouts to planets when they’re discovered to determine if arrangements can be made with the indigenous species for travel, trade, etc. The planet is inhabited by a sentient reptilian species that is wholly peaceful, and wholly without organized religion or even any concept of good or bad. One of the Earthian scouts is both a biologist and a Jesuit priest, and he is both fascinated and repulsed by the Lithians.

Almost the whole first half of the book is a discussion, between him and the three other scouts of various backgrounds, of the morality of the different recommendations each of them plans to make for those arrangements …with the ultimate decision (or lack thereof) having no real bearing on most of the rest of the book. The second half is what happens when they come back to Earth, divided, carrying a Lithian egg from which hatches Egtverchi, a being that throws humans into a frenzy, living as they are in underground shelters all throughout Earth and scared as they are of the creature.

The advantage of literary sci-fi is that any book written in that genre can take pages and pages to describe the world in which it takes place. Conversely, the disadvantage of the genre is that it can take pages and pages to describe that world. It’s fun to use one’s imagination to envision these worlds, but I need the plot in the books I read to move faster than this one did, and indeed than most literary sci-fis, or books written in the 1950’s, do. Those of you enjoy such long-windedness will enjoy this book, both for the world-building and the religious discussion.

But mentioning plot brings me to the main reason I didn’t like this book, and that was that its plot, slow as it was, was ambiguous and inconclusive. It didn’t lead toward an ending that resolved the moral dilemma of the main character, the Jesuit priest. It stopped right before such an ending could have taken place. I hated that.

So, were I to rate Case of Conscience on my 1-to-10-stars scale, I would give it a solid 5…or 4. For its genre and when it was written, it’s a pioneering example of good, hard sci-fi. It did, in fact, win a Hugo award for that reason. But it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Note: In the absence of nutrition facts labels for books, I recommend going to Compass Book Ratings, CommonSenseMedia, and Book Smugglers. All three, along with the product reviews you might find on Amazon, can sometimes give you an idea of the moral content of a book, if the book you’re looking for has been reviewed by them. The last one, Book Smugglers, reviews primarily sci-fi and fantasy, thoroughly and eloquently, and their moral perspective, since it tends to be opposite of mine, helps me to gauge whether such books would be appropriate for me.

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of A Case of Conscience from NetGalley in exchange for my review. All opinions stated herein are purely my own.

Book Review: Inborn by Amy Saunders, Not the Best, But…

Update: Inborn by Amy Saunders is available for .99 cents on Kindle!

For all of you ten people who follow my book review blog: 1) thank you. You are awesome. 2) I’m going to break with tradition here and give a less-than-stellar review of a book, so be forewarned. I read a book recently that I didn’t quite like, and I went back-and-forth on whether or not to review this book and how to go about doing it if I did. It wasn’t easy to pin down what was wrong with Inborn by Amy Saunders, but I feel that it will be helpful for both you, my readers, and me as a writer to articulate in a constructive way its faults. That being said, it is available for free on Amazon Kindle right now, and its worth a read just because of that. You might disagree with me in your assessment of the book.

What is Inborn About?

Rosamund Brandt’s enjoyment of adolescence’s simple, normal pleasures (learning how to drive, dating, etc.) is threatened by the ever-present possibility that she is descended from aliens. Her life is threatened by a killer who seems to be routing out such non-human life forms as herself. When Rosamund becomes a target, she has a choice between playing the killer’s game and saving a few people, or getting to the core of the ongoing murders and stopping them for good. Her choice will save everyone she cares about…or unleash a new era for herself and her family, shattering whatever hope for going back to normal she had.

Who Would (or Wouldn’t) Like Inborn, and Why?

Readers who aren’t too picky about the style of a book, but like YA sci-fi, will like Inborn. Its premise does promise a solid amount of conflict and tension. But weak writing makes the plot too porous to really enjoy. This paragraph near the beginning is a good example of such writing:

“I peeked back at Joss and she mouthed, ‘Tell me everything.’ I nodded in the affirmative and Joss gripped her pencil.  After all that, I wouldn’t need to worry about it because things took a turn for the weird after lunch. In the middle of English lit, a school faculty member interrupted the class.”

Aside from the somewhat mechanical feeling of these words (i.e., “I did this and then I did that”) and the cliché situation they represent, there is also an incongruency of tenses that puts the reader off in subtle ways. Most of that quote, and the narrative throughout the book, is in past tense, as in “I peeked” and “Joss gripped.” “Wouldn’t” is a future “possible” statement embedded in a past tense narrative; it sends the reader into the future for a heartbeat, then back into the past. The paragraph, and the flow of the plot overall, would have been better with something like: “I didn’t need to worry about it after all because things took a turn for the weird after lunch,” or by taking the sentence out altogether, enabling the reader to follow Rosamund through events as they unfolded.

Subtle tense dissonances are scattered throughout, and are occasionally compounded by mismatched tenses and pronouns. Take, for example, this sentence:

“But the sight of it did make me bolder, so I got to my feet. Besides, it was easier to defend yourself standing up.”

The author again changes tense mid-phrase, going from past (with “make,” “got,” and “was”) to present tense with “defend,” and changes point of view, going from first-person (“me,” “I,” and “my”) to second-  (with “yourself”). As I mentioned, this may not be something that would bother you, but it threw me off. That phrase would have been stronger if she’d written something like: “…so I got to my feet. I wanted to defend myself standing up.”

Various other instances of passive voice, redundancy, telling instead of showing, and unusual character reactions make what could have been a really fun, exciting read one that is decidedly less so. I would give this book a solid four out of ten stars.

What’s the Deal?

As mentioned, Inborn is .99 cents on Amazon.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the ebook through NetGalley. All opinions stated herein are my own.

A woman in a regency ball gown cloaked with lights, behind the words "Shades of Milk and Honey"

Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal: Regency Magic

Update: I originally published this post in January of 2017. I’ve updated it with a deal that I found recently on Shades of Milk and Honey. This post contains an affiliate link, which doesn’t change the price of the book for you, IF you buy it using the link I provide.

I find myself setting a new record, and not in a good way. I’m in the middle of six—count ’em—six books. Of course, reading that many all at one time slows down my ability to finish them considerably. But they’re all so…interesting, for so many different reasons! If any of you have read…

  • The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
  • Inborn by Amy Saunders
  • A Million Worlds With You by Claudia Gray
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  • Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall by Anthony E. Wolf
  • A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

…you’ll have to let me know what you thought of them. I hope to be able to give you reviews of each, in the order listed above, in each of the six following weeks. Right now, though, I’m going to tell you about Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s a book about regency magic. It’s Jane Austen meets Harry Potter, if you will. It was Shannon Hale who recommended them to me on Twitter:

What is Shades of Milk and Honey About?

Jane Ellsworth, the main character, is a woman who, at the age of twenty-eight, has resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood, despite the fact that she is eligible, affable, and well-skilled in the manipulation of “glamour.” Her younger sister, Melody, is prettier and easily wins more attention from single men, so Jane satisfies herself with practicing and perfecting the glamour magic that allows her to weave beautiful three-dimensional scenes, record conversations, and make illusions. It is through that practice that she meets celebrated glamourist Mr. Vincent, who is a grumpier version of Mr. Darcy. Through Melody’s actions and an illness that Mr. Vincent develops from the overuse of his magic, Jane and Mr. Vincent are repeatedly thrown together. His host, the Viscountess Fitzcameron, is the aunt of a certain Captain Livingston. Both Jane and Melody develop an interest in Captain Livingston, who, though he shows interest in both of them, proposes to neither of them, but still becomes a key character by the end of the book.

Who Would Like This Book, And Why?

The thing that’s so great about this book, and about its sequel Glamour in Glass, is the characters, and the way that Mary Robinette Kowal weaves magic perfectly throughout the subtle emotional intrigues of early 19th century England. The magic system is fascinating in and of itself, and could easily have been the focus of the book. It’s a system that, as per the culture of the time, is very much focused on the production of beauty. At its strongest, it is an art form.

By the same token, the undercurrent of tension between the sisters Jane and Melody, who are very different from each other and don’t understand each other very well, could have also been the main theme, as it was in Sense and Sensibility. So too could the development of the various relationships between all of those main characters. All of these elements, though, are wonderfully balanced and skillfully intertwined in a plot that advances steadily toward a very dramatic conclusion. Ten out of ten stars.

So, fans of both Regency romance books and magic/fantasy books will like this book, as will fans of Jane Austen, of course.

What’s the Deal?

BetterWorldBooks.com has it for $3.98.

 

Book Review and Deal: Brain on Fire is a Fascinating Read

Oh boy, have I been reading like crazy lately…and busy!  I just finished Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. When I read non-fiction, which isn’t often, I love books like this. It was fascinating.

brain-on-fire-cover

What Is Brain on Fire About?

Brain on Fire is the memoir of a young woman who suddenly wakes up in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, with no memory of how she got there. “Days before,” says the back cover, “she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper.” It’s the story of her abrupt and unexplained descent into madness, her month in it, of which she has no memory but which she pulled together from the journals of family members, doctors’ notes, and surveillance footage, and recovery from it.

It is both fascinating and well-written.  Susannah details many of her weird behaviors, like how she became violent, psychotic, and bent on escape after she woke up, and how she repeatedly held her arms out in front of her body like a zombie, not sure why but unable to control the movement. She also became, by turns, paranoid and catatonic. She also  explores the various hypotheses put forward by doctors to explain it, and the incredibly convoluted journey towards diagnosis and treatment.

What’s the Deal?

You can get a used copy in good condition on Thriftbooks for $3.99.

Who Would Like Brain on Fire, And Why?,

As mentioned, anyone who likes well-written books, especially those like I’m Eve and Sybil will like this book. It’s a book that reveals the fragility of the human mind,. It makes you at once so very thankful for the sanity that you enjoy while also heartsick for Susannah and her family.

Can you recommend other memoirs of people with mental or neurological illnesses?

Three Book Reviews in One: The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

This week, I give you three book reviews in one: The Winner’s Curse, The Winner’s Crime, and The Winner’s Kiss, all part of the Winner’s trilogy by Marie Rutkoski. Altogether a rousing and emotional, if somewhat ponderous, speculative fantasy series about a young woman, Kestrel, who is the daughter of a general, the owner of a slave, and an unwilling lynchpin in an emperor’s plan for domination.

 

16069030The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t agree with this review more, left by Goodreads reviewer Kim: “I can’t speak to the hype, but I can speak to the quality of the book. This is a very, very good YA fantasy. Superb world-building without info-dumping. Well-rounded characters and a romance that allows for the hero and heroine to actually get to know one another. Clean, spare writing that at times, especially toward the end, rises to lyrical beauty. Intelligent—I can’t emphasize that enough—intelligent plotting and strategy (an essential but often sadly underdeveloped element of any book involving politics). Interesting, thought-provoking nuances of slavery, empires, war, and freedom. And an end that allows for the complexity of the book’s cultures and characters and, while setting up for a sequel, also works well as the finish to a standalone volume.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


20443207The Winner’s Crime
by Marie Rutkoski

This one got a bit more ponderous, but still packs quite an emotional punch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


20443235The Winner’s Kiss
by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I was absolutely enthralled with book one of this series, The Winner’s Curse, I was less so with book two, The Winner’s Crime, and even less so with the final book. This book delved too deeply into military strategy and the complexities of Kestrel’s relationships with her dad and with Arin for my taste. It bogged down the plot immensely, I thought, until it was so heavy it could only plod along. Still, it was worth reading the entire series.