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

Temporary Shift, by E.V. Baugh: A Review

Chick-flick sci-fi, essentially.

Temporary Shift by E.V. Baugh is a cute little sci-fi romance with appealing characters:temporary-shift
essentially, chick-flick sci-fi. Klutzy temp worker Sally is assigned to a private physics laboratory….and when she drops her phone and accidentally bumps into some controls as she bends to retrieve it, the results send her into a series of multi-universe existences, playing out different scenarios in her possible lives. The attractive physicist whose lab it was, and to whom she feels a distinct pull, is a part of all of these different lives: he’s clearly important to her, but in what way?

I’ll be clear; this isn’t technical science-fiction. The time-travel is a device to play out different scenarios in Sally’s life, and that’s all. It reminded me of the film Sliding Doors, but with more alternatives than just two parallel universes. It’s amusing and there’s just enough twist to the romantic angle to keep the ending from being completely obvious.

The writing is competent and the voice appropriate to the story. I had a few niggles with the pacing, with perhaps too much time in the first third of the book taken up by one (or two) too many different scenarios in Sally’s possible lives. Even after that, some of the story was repetitious, but perhaps with so many early scenarios, the author needed to clarify which issues were important. Characters are fairly stock for this type of book, but nicely described and realized.

Temporary Shift is a quick read, good for a lazy Sunday afternoon (alternatively, I’d find it a good commuter-train read, not so demanding of concentration you’d miss your stop) for those who enjoy a light romance. Overall, 4 stars.

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

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.

Ayahuasca, by Jonathan Huls: A Review

William S Burroughs did it better…but I can’t deny its fascination.

This actually may be the shortest review I ever write.  William S Burroughs did it better, ayahuascabut Ayahuasca is at least a linear narrative. If this makes no sense to you, go look up Burroughs and The Naked Lunch on Wikipedia. Do this before you buy the book, and consider that they share themes and actions.

I read Ayahuasca in one sitting, finding it rather horribly compelling. I didn’t like it (I didn’t like The Naked Lunch, either) but I can’t deny its fascination. Not for the easily disturbed….or maybe for the very disturbed. Four stars.

 

 

 

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 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.

Oracle (Freya Snow Book 4) by L.C. Mawson: A Review

…a fast-paced magical adventure.

The fourth installment in L.C. Mawson’s Freya Snow series continues the story begun in oracleHunt. Freya, now more aware of her magical heritage and powers (although not completely) accepts a work experience placement in London, only to discover that her employer has chosen her for her magical abilities, and her assignment is to track down a missing Oracle. The problem is, does this Oracle want to be found?

Switching between the Shadow Realm and everyday life, the story provides more explanation of Freya’s background and foreshadows one possible future. It also acts as an exploration of some of Freya’s deepest fears and the choices she needs to make. But I also found parts of this book had, for me, a deeper resonance as a metaphor for the difficulties and choices people on the autism spectrum disorder face. I hesitate to write this, because I am allistic (non-autistic), but my husband is autistic (Asperger’s diagnosis), and after thirty-eight years of living with him, I may have a few valid insights. When Freya (or her Shadow Realm counterpart, to be precise) is told this about her possible bond with another magical creature: “The only way the two of you can bond is if you form a real and lasting attachment to the Human world. We always knew you were too closed off to others for that ever to be likely….” it struck me as the truth about relationships many autistic people live with. It can be easier to invest in other sorts of relationships – with computers, games, or, as Freya does, as a bounty-hunter of evil magical creatures – than it is with other humans…especially when the powers you hold – whether it is Freya’s magic or the ability to envision and analyse and discard dozens of answers to a word-game problem in a few milliseconds (don’t play Tribond® with my husband) – separate you from allistics.

Even with that possible interpretation aside, this is a fast-paced magical adventure. It should not be read without having read the previous books, and perhaps the related short stories too: I have read all the books, but not the stories, and there were occasionally times when I found myself confused about past events, which could be due either to my poor memory or to something happening or revealed in a story I haven’t read. But overall the four books have provided a coherent narrative and a developing story. I’m giving this installment four stars.

I received a copy of this book 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.

The Silver Portal, by David J. Normoyle: A Review

Magic gone wrong, and five disparate young people from across the land become the weapons-bearers…

Five weapons of power. Magic gone wrong, and instead of five trained warriors bonding to WeaponsofPower-Final-Smallthe weapons, five disparate young people from across the land become the weapons-bearers. Magically linked to the weapons, each must learn its powers and its responsibilities, evade those who want to use them for ill, and find each other across a wide and dangerous land. David J. Normoyle’s book The Silver Portal, the first book in a planned series, introduces us to the five protagonists: street urchin Twig; would-be-adventurer Lukin; noble Suma; Mortlebee, outcast from his religious community, and rebellious Simeon. Each character stands as individuals; each has their own difficulties with their unexpected weapons. Struggles with trust, ethics, personal convictions and the expectations of upbringing are central to each character’s growth and development through the story, but not in a heavy-handed or preachy way. Instead, these dilemmas are an integral part of the story, handled for the most part deftly and naturally.

The writing is competent and fluid, and at the right level of difficulty for the young-adult target audience. Readers are introduced to the history, politics and magic of the world in a gradual manner, often learning along with the characters. Although in a couple of places I found myself wishing for a deeper understanding of the history, enough is given to flesh out the story and the motivations of characters.

I found the plot a bit rushed towards the end, given the fairly slow development of during most of the book. But as part of a series, the pacing may be less uneven when the book is read as an introduction to the world and the characters rather than a stand-alone story. Overall, 4 stars, for a worthy addition to young-adult fantasy.