The Cult of Unicorns, by Chrys Cymri: A Review

When dead bodies and unicorns begin to appear in the English midlands, Penny White, Church of England vicar , has work to do. 

When characters from a story begin to inhabit your dreams, you know the story has Cult of Unicornsreally taken hold of your imagination.  In my case, it was a snail shark, a creature of Chrys Cymri’s mythical, magical land of Lloegyr, a mere thin-space transport away from our own world, that began to crawl through my nightly fantasies.

When dead bodies and unicorns begin to appear in the English midlands, Penny White, Church of England vicar and official Church liaison with Lloegyr, has work to do.  With the help of Peter, the local detective, her brother, the devil-may-care dragon Raven, and her gryphon companion, Penny must navigate the glamour of unicorns and the deep pockets of a multi-national corporation to find the truth.  Interspersed with realistic examples of the difficulties of running a parish in an increasingly secular world and glimpses into Penny’s personal struggles, The Cult of Unicorns is a satisfying read set in an easily-believable world just a little skewed from ours (or is it?)

An appreciation of Doctor Who and good whiskey likely add to the reader’s delight in Penny’s world (I qualify for both) but aren’t necessary.  But you do need to accept a beer-loving snail shark named Clyde that loves the Teletubbies and can sing…and clearly my subconscious was quite happy to suspend that piece of disbelief, because Clyde comes to visit every so often, sliding his way into otherwise normal dreams.  He’s delightful…as is The Cult of Unicorns.  Five stars.

Escaping Infinity, by Richard Paolinelli: A Review

Good potential, unrealized.

Losing their way on desert roads, and nearly out of gas, Peter and his work partner escaping infinityCharlie are relieved to see a hotel – a magnificent, modern hotel – standing alone on a highway.  They check in, only to find, like in the Eagles’ Hotel California, they can’t check out.

Peter and a rebellious receptionist, Liz, attempt to escape the Hotel Infinity; Peter’s explorations and their escape attempts make up the first part of the book. This part is a pretty good science-fiction story; there are a few issues with pacing, but overall, I would have given it maybe four stars.  The problem is, it’s only the first section of the book.  The second section is, basically, an outline: written in primarily passive voice, the reader is told what occurs over the next several hundred years after the climax of the first part.

Spoilers after this point!

Author Robert Paolinelli should have, in my opinion, taken the time to create this story, not hand the reader a summary. As a two or even three book series, Escaping Infinity could have expanded into an thoughtful exploration of redemption, responsibility, and the realistic problems in the attempted creation of a second-chance utopia.  Even when the chosen people have escaped hell-fire; even when their leader has god-like properties and apparent eternal life, for the society to evolve as problem-free as it is described here stretched my belief beyond its breaking point. Stories depend on conflict, tiny conflicts, large conflicts, to propel them forward, and the second part is a narrative almost free of any struggle.  I found it immensely disappointing.

As a result, Escaping Infinity is only getting a 2 1/2 star review from me.  Good potential, unrealized.

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.

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 Faerie of Central Park, by Bruce Graw: A Review

The Faerie of Central Park is a gentle, amusing story, a romance in the old meaning of the term.

Dave is a first year student at Columbia University in New York city, unsure and adrift –faerie-central-park until the day an injured faerie lands on the windshield of his car. Thinking it is a high-quality doll he can use to impress a girl, he takes it home – only to find that it is an honest-to-goodness live faerie.

Tilly, the faerie, is the genius loci of Central Park, keeping its natural rhythms in place, taking care of the Land. She desperately needs to return – but Men are the age-old enemies of the Fey, so how can she trust Dave?

The Faerie of Central Park is a gentle, amusing story, a romance in the old meaning of the term. The story begins light-heartedly, describing Tilly’s actions in Central Park and Dave’s at university. Even after they meet, the story continues in a fairly predictable ‘human meets non-human and get to know each other’ vein, but well written and enjoyable.

The story bogged down for me in the middle, with too much description and repetition of situations that did not differ enough from each other to warrant inclusion. But it picked up again in the last third of the book as the story approached its climax and then came to an almost-satisfying conclusion.

I can’t fault the writing: author Bruce Graw constructs sentences and paragraphs with skill. The characters are as developed as one would expect in a light urban fantasy, with the characters of Tilly and Dave the most developed, as is appropriate. The e-book was extremely well edited, without the common errors that spell-check misses. Only the actual story-telling wobbled, in the too-long and too-repetitious middle section, and an ending that left me with one fairly large niggle, which I won’t describe so as to avoid spoilers.

Overall, three-and-a-half stars for a enjoyable urban fantasy, suitable for both young adults and older.

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

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.

A Season for Killing Blondes, by Joanne Guidoccio: A Review

An extended Italian family, lots of food, and four murders.

An extended Italian family, lots of food, and four murders are at the heart of Joanneseason for killing blondes Guidoccio’s A Season for Killing Blondes, a cozy mystery set in Sudbury, Ontario. While followers of my blog and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads know that this is not my usual genre to review, every so often, I like to read something different, just as while my preference in cinema is for small, independent, international films, once in a while I watch with complete enjoyment a rom-com, or a Hollywood blockbuster.

And enjoyment is what A Season for Killing Blondes gave me. It’s a fairly quick read, at 264 pages on my iPad Kindle app, perfect for a lazy Sunday or as a beach book. Competently written and plotted, it gained points for me by not only being set in my home province, but by its protagonist being middle-aged. Gilda Greco is fifty-ish, setting up a new business as a career counsellor after winning a major lottery, when a body is found in the Dumpster behind her office. The investigation reunites her with police detective Carlo Fantin, a high-school crush of Gilda’s. Family secrets, rivalries and jealousies factor into the escalating crimes. Can Gilda clear her name while helping to find who is responsible?

There are sufficient clues dropped, along with a few red herrings, to keep the reader engaged in the mystery and at the same time guessing. I had a minor niggle with a plot point which I felt rang untrue, and characters tend to be a little two-dimensional, but no more so than they are in an Agatha Christie mystery, so that’s not really a criticism. A nice addition to the book is the inclusion of several recipes at the end. Overall, 4 stars.