Shattering Glass, by Connor Coyne: A Review

What if thought could be turned into power, not of the kind wielded by politicians and heads of corporations, but the sort that turns on lights, runs motors, boots up your laptop?

Universities run on thought.  It’s why they exist: to share thought, to foster new thought, toShattering Glass turn thought into something, tangible or intangible, new to the world.  But what if they ran on thought in a different way, if thought could be turned into power, not of the kind wielded by politicians and heads of corporations, but the sort that turns on lights, runs motors, boots up your laptop?  And what would happen to those whose thoughts were channelled into that power?

In a rust-belt town in Michigan, a businessman creates a new university on the grounds of an abandoned psychiatric hospital. First-year students Samo, Monty, Ezzie, and Dunya share a residence floor, below ground in the Calliope Cradle. None is quite sure how he or she ended up here, but the angst of first-year adjustment is more than enough to occupy them.  But even in the confusion of buying overpriced and unaffordable textbooks, joining clubs, figuring out where to eat, and discovering mid-terms can be in almost any week of the semester, they come to realize something wicked this way comes…or rather, is already here.

Complex, intricate, perhaps a little self-indulgent (like its protagonists at first), Shattering Glass is neither straightforward nor stereotypical. It contains elements of steampunk, Greek tragedy, absurdist theatre, and film noir, all wrapped up in a superficially Harry Potteresque setting transported to a failing industrial city.  But it also delves into some difficult questions….what does happen to a personality subsumed into a university’s -or a universe’s -power system? How do we stay ourselves? Can we? At what price?

This won’t be a book for everyone. Its non-linear narrative, metafiction techniques, and elaborate detail does not make it an easy read.  But if you read Vonnegut, give Shattering Glass a chance. I’m giving it 4.5 stars here on my blog, which will translate to five on Amazon and Goodreads.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Gleam of Light: Book 1 of the Survival Trilogy, by T.J. & M.L Wolf

A Gleam of Light pits a young Hopi woman and a reporter against the U.S. Army in a race for the secrets buried deep within a cavern on Hopi land.

Drawing on ‘documented’ UFO sightings, Hopi cosmology, and some non-mainstreama gleam of light interpretations of various petroglyphs, religious practices, and experiences from around the world, A Gleam of Light pits a young Hopi woman and a reporter against the U.S. Army in a race for the secrets buried deep within a cavern on Hopi land.

The concept of using the cosmology of a people whose beliefs can be interpreted to mesh with UFO and alien sightings isn’t new – I’m old enough to remember – and to have read –  Chariots of the Gods, by Erik Von Daniken (although that was marketed as non-fiction.)  It’s a decent premise for a book, and in many ways A Gleam of Light reminded me of Dan Brown’s books, building a story around a race to interpret symbolic messages left by a previous generation.  Throw in some action and settings reminiscent of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, and you’ve got the general idea.

But while it’s a decent premise, the Wolfs don’t quite pull it off.  The book suffers from a number of structural issues: uneven pacing; exposition disguised as conversation (usually almost monologue) to give background or explanation; coincidences that stretch credulity, solutions to dilemmas that just come a little too easily.  I think there is a good adventure story here, and one more rewrite under the guidance of a good developmental editor could have brought it out.  As it stands, 2 ½ stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Penny White and The Temptation of Dragons, by Chrys Cymri: A Review

With a mother from Northamptonshire, a voracious reader of anything fantasy since childhood, an upbringing in the Church of England, and a definite fan of both single-malts and Doctor Who, the book was, for me, a perfect storm of reference points.

What do these have in common? Single-malt whisky, Doctor Who, dragons,temptation-dragons Northamptonshire, the Church of England. While this might sound like a round of Only Connect, the actual answer is that they are all integral aspects of Chrys Cymri’s delightful book Penny White and The Temptation of Dragons.

Penny White is the vicar of a small parish in Northamptonshire. One night she finds herself at a vehicular accident, giving last rites to a….dragon?  This act of compassion is Penny’s introduction to the parallel world of fantastic creatures that exists alongside our own, a world where St George is the dragon, not the knight. Asked to take on a significant position liaising between our world and this other one, with a gryphon as her assistant, Penny accepts, to find herself not only caught up in a murder inquiry, but attracted to the ultimate bad boy, the James Dean of dragons.

Chrys Cymri writes with a deft, light hand, a fine sense of pacing, and an ear for comedy. I found myself laughing out loud many times while reading The Temptation of Dragons.  But behind the light-hearted fantasy is a story about frailty, love and forgiveness. Penny has her own tragedies; she may be too dependent on her single-malt, and she’s lonely. Her gryphon companion has his demons, too.  They need to work past their differences, not only to be an effective team, but to find the commonalities that bond them.

I may have been just about the ideal reader for The Temptation of Dragons. With a mother from Northamptonshire, a voracious reader of anything fantasy since childhood, an upbringing in the Church of England, and a definite fan of both single-malts and Doctor Who, the book was, for me, a perfect storm of reference points.  But I doubt all those are pre-requisites to appreciating Chrys Cymri’s writing. Five well-deserved stars!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

The Ravellers’ Guild, by Rachel Emma Shaw: A Review

A tantalizing introduction to what may be a fresh new fantasy series.

Tahnner is a pawn in his father’s game of shifting allegiances.  Eager to prove his loyalty to the king, he offers his son to the Ravellers’ Guild, forcing him into a lifetime of serviceravellers-guild Tahnner never wanted, reading the past and future of his world in the mysterious Threads of morning and evening.

The Ravellers’ Guild is a novella by Rachel Emma Shaw, setting the stage for a book series in production. The world the author has created is both familiar and new: the warring political factions are the background for many a story; the Ravellers, adepts who can follow, understand and translate the messages of the Threads are new.

The novella jumps into action quickly, building both conflict and the world in which that conflict occurs, and introducing us to many of the major characters. The story moves over time – several years pass, allowing Tahnner to mature in his skills, bringing us to the climax, a moment of betrayal, self-realization, and regret for Tahnner, and leaving the reader with enough questions to encourage them to delve into the full series, when it is available.

I’m giving The Ravellers’ Guild 4.5 stars; not 5, because the pacing in the middle section of the book could have been tighter, and I found my attention wandering. But overall, it’s a tantalizing introduction to what may be a fresh new fantasy series.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Year of Reviewing: My Top Ten

I’ve reviewed 65 books in the last twelve months: these are my top ten, in alphabetical order.

I wrote my first review on this site a year ago this week. Since then, I’ve reviewed 65 books. These are my top ten, in alphabetical order. All these received 5 stars from me; coincidentally, this were the only 5-star reviews for the year, so I didn’t have to make a decision of what to include or leave out!

Citizen Magus, by Rob Steiner

Falcon Boy, by Barnaby Taylor

Hollo: The Gatecaster’s Apprentice, by Devon Michael

Magic of the Gargoyles, by Rebecca Chastain

Prophecy by Benjamin A. Sorenson

Sailor to a Siren, by Zoë Sumra

Sapphire Hunting, by J SenGupta

The Quantum Door, by Jonathan Ballagh

The World, by Robin Wildt Hansen

Tom Cat, by Amy Holden Jones

The Tom Cat, by Amy Holden Jones: A Review

The Tom Cat is a delightful romp of a story, without a missed beat or loose end.

Tom Knightly is a rich man-about-town who can’t commit; he breaks the heart of his tom-catfiancee by running out on her only a few days before the wedding. Ashamed of himself, he ends up in a bar called The Black Cat, where he meets a graceful, beautiful older woman apparently on the prowl, a cougar. They drink together, and the next morning, Tom wakes up….as a cat.

As a cat, Tom survives a few escapades before making it back to the apartment of his fiancee, Kaylie. The fat old labrador, Henry, who serves as a guard dog, welcomes him, and begins to teach him a few life lessons. Tom will need to learn what true love and sacrifice is before he can become human again, and win his Kaylie back.

The Tom Cat is a delightful romp of a story, without a missed beat or loose end. Sure, the characters are a bit two-dimensional, and there’s no real doubt it’s going to end happily, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Author Amy Holden Jones has a number of screenwriting credits to her name, and the professionalism is apparent. In fact, The Tom Cat itself would make a good summer movie. (Twenty years ago, I would have cast Hugh Grant in the title role.)

This isn’t great literature, but I couldn’t fault it. Five stars to this light, offbeat romance.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Noble’s Quest, by Ryan Toxopeus: A Review

If it is adventure you are after, The Noble’s Quest has it in spades.

Elves and dwarves, men and halflings, gnomes and orcs…this is a high fantasy story in thea-nobles-quest tradition of Terry Brooks, with gaming influences also apparent. Fast paced, and with a unexpected twist towards the end, A Noble’s Quest suitably entertained me. The gaming influences, I think, are most apparent in the pace of the story, and the characters’ self-awareness, tending towards ‘kill now, think about it later’ rather than the more reflective nature of some fantasies.

But if it is adventure you are after, A Noble’s Quest has it in spades. Thomas and Sarentha, the two protagonists, are peasants working as lumberjacks until Thomas accidentally kills the boss’s son. Forced to flee, they are caught up in a quest that involves an ancient map, the branch of a magical tree, and silver dragons that breath frost, not fire. (I liked that dragon, a neat inversion of the usual.)

There’s a bit of a fan fiction feel to parts of the world Ryan Toxopeus has created, strengthened by his use of the terms orcs and mithril, but to some extent Middle-Earth belongs to the generations now, part of a shared consciousness and the foundation of much of high fantasy, whether the authors realize that or not. The characters are a bit predictable (well, most of them – no spoilers!), but that’s less important in a story shaped by the adventure, not by the personalities. Sometimes the solutions to problems seemed a bit ‘deux ex machina‘, especially towards the end, again reflecting (in my opinion) the influences of gaming.

A Noble’s Quest is followed by its sequel, A Wizard’s Gambit, which I will be reading as soon as I get through my backlist! Overall, 3.5 stars from me for The Noble’s Quest, which translates to 4 on Goodreads and Amazon.

I received a copy of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

The Extraordinary Temptation, by Patrick McCusker: A Review

Worthy of a couple of lazy summer afternoons…

Any book that starts with an archaeologist in the field is likely to pull me in, and PatrickThe Extraordinary Temptation - Front Cover McCusker’s The Extraordinary Temptation did exactly that. From a medieval monastery site in Ireland to a ranch in Texas to Vatican City, the story for the most part kept me turning pages, entertained.

Ed Weaver is a young archaeologist overseeing a routine construction project when the ditch-digger uncovers a marble cube deep in the Irish bog, but he is without the funds to continue its appropriate excavation. An American donor steps in, promising the funds, setting off a tragic sequence of events for Ed and the theft of the precious contents of the cube. With those contents, a scientific experiment is begun, one with life-and-world-changing potential. Ed is determined to pursue of the chain of events that began with the discovery of cube, even if it takes him over twenty years to learn the truth.

The Extraordinary Temptation is sufficiently well-researched to be plausible, without going into so much detail to be pedantic. The writing is competent and the plot flows smoothly for the most part. I had a few niggles: one clearly evil character’s background or motivation is never satisfactorily explained; another, central to the plot, perhaps needed a better explanation of the myths and tales of sacred duality for readers unfamiliar with the concept. Overall, I found the first two-thirds of the book, leading up to the major crises and climax of the story, to be better written than the actual climactic events, which lacked sufficient impact. A pivotal chapter, which should fully engage the reader’s emotions, fails to do so (at least for me), because the reader is primarily told what is happening and not shown through the characters’ reactions and responses.

Niggles aside, I still found The Extraordinary Temptation to be entertaining and mostly enjoyable reading, worthy of a couple of lazy summer afternoons. My rating is 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Fall of The Gods (Elynx Saga Book 1) by Nicola Bagalà: A Review

I found parts of the story to be quite fun…

The Fall of The Gods (Elynx Saga Book 1) by Nicola Bagalà requires a major suspension of disbeliefFall of the Gods to enter fully into the world the author has created. Visualizing the action as a movie may help; when I could do that, I found parts of the story to be quite fun, although I could never really take it seriously.

The writing, as far as the adherence to the rules and conventions of grammar and spelling of the English language, is quite good, perhaps more so as English is not the author’s first language and he has translated the work from Italian. There were one or two mis-steps (snickers for sneakers, as one example) but overall the translation is competent and sentence flow is good; there are fewer mistakes than I usually see in any self-published work. It’s in the structure of story-telling that the problems arise. Mix together a sentient artificial intelligence that is the ‘soul’ of a building (and can appear as a solid hologram), a missing genius scientist, a Japanese grad student who is a mathematics and martial arts specialist, some equipment and action straight out of comic books and video games, dream sequences, and aliens crashed in the Sonora desert…well, can you mix all that together and write a coherent storyline? Not in one book, I’m afraid. There are too many plot lines and too many genres combined here for the story to hold together well. As it is the first book in a series, it is possible that once the other(s) are written that the whole series will coalesce into a solid and meaningful story. As it stands now, it’s too many flavours in one pot.

Standing out for me among the characters of the book was the sentient, holographic AI Hex. Perhaps an homage to Hal of 2001: A Space Odyssey, (although he also reminded me of the ‘soul of the Tardis’) as revealed in the Doctor Who episode The Doctor’s Wife), I found the character appealing and amusing, and oddly enough more fully realized than most of the other characters. (Which may, of course, say more about me as a reader than it does about the writer.)

Overall 2.5 stars, which translates to 3 on Goodreads and Amazon.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.