SPFBO – Update

I now have two new titles, having withdrawn two from the ranks for being science-fantasy, rather than straight fantasy.

One was from my initial shortlist (meaning I got past the first 30%), and I was giving it the benefit of the doubt as being science-fantasy and waiting to see where it took itself. This book was The Killing Jar by R. S. McCoy.

The second was one I’d already eliminated, Tuning the Symphony by William C. Tracy, and upon thought and that I’m steaming along okay, I wanted to take on as many as possible from the reserve list, and so, the replacement titles are:

 James Kelly – The Fey Man
Randy Nargi – A Conspiracy of Shadows
On one hand I’m always hesitant to withdraw titles as I like everything to have a chance, but at the same time it means that others don’t get the same consideration. As these two titles were both listed as science fiction on amazon, I’m okay with taking this decision, and I look forward to the two new titles!

Review: Magic Comes to Whiteport by S.J. Madill

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B01CDKRTNU
ISBN 13: 9781370468935
Published: February 2016
Pages: 241
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the first book that I chose to further consider out of my initial 30, trying to whittle them all down to a single title to put forward to the other judges.

Split into three POV characters, we have: Katryn – who was recently killed, brought back to life by a necromancer, and now seeks revenge for her family. Anson, who serves the eccentric Lord Jaminus who is always in fear of his powers hurting innocent people. And Nick, who goes by a title rather than an actual name – ‘Nick’ after his mother who was the previous Nick and was much better at the job than he is.

Throughout the start they come near each other in their own separate plots and following their own aims. We get to know them all equally well, and though with some books the reader may get disgruntled with leaving a character behind as the POV changes, this isn’t the case in this book – each three journeys are equally as engaging, and from the start we know how they’ll eventually come together – because something is wrong with magic, and that means Katryn is slowly decomposing despite the spells that keep being refreshed upon her… and Nick, who relies on magic heavily to survive keeps getting further and further into trouble. As for Lord Jaminus’ woes, you’ll just have to read to find out.

Although the novel feels short, each character manages to grow and the plot comes together neatly and precisely at the end. The title almost feels like it doesn’t make a lot of sense for part of the book, and then it all comes to light also, near the end.

This is a novel for people who are character driven. Each and every character had their failings, but they were each someone you grew very quickly attached to, and I’d love to see a short story set sometime in the future showing where they all end up – because I really want to know that they all stay happy and safe, and I’d also love hints of where they end up in the future.

Overall, a quite enjoyable novel that has lovely characters, decent plot, few to no spelling or grammatical errors, and easily keeps you reading.

Review: Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

Published by: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.
ISBN: 1473632242
ISBN 13: 9781473632240
Published: July 2017
Pages: 352
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Lucy Worsley is easily my favourite historian (yes, it is possible to have such things, I also adore Kate Williams and Greg Jenner as very close seconds) and coming from her previous books, this doesn’t disappoint. We start with her introduction and what Austen means to her, and from there we launch into the early life of Jane. Worsley has seemingly everything at her disposal – letters sent to and fro from uncles and brothers-in-law, describing the nearby relatives and their health and complaints, as well as what the land was like around Steventon Rectory.

Mostly we come to learn as to what inspired Austen, and the themes of the books and how they reflect her life at the time. One may think that Austen’s books are all romance, when in fact Worsley points out well-thought observances about what else surrounded Austen, and what was truly important to her.

Although Worsley is a huge fan, she still accounts for Austen’s life quite fairly and matter of fact, not trying to twist the few facts known into something a bit more exciting or bittersweet. With wit and fondness, we come to learn about Austen from her highs and her many lows, and everything in between.

Split into four parts, we go from the younger years to when she had to travel, to being published and then the disasters. We then also have 42 pages of bibliography and notes, so if one ever wanted to look into anything (literally anything at all), Worsley has already done the hard work for us.

Throughout, Worsley speaks to the reader as if you’re old friends, chatting over a cup of tea in front of a roaring fire. She’s so constantly excited without failing enthusiasm about history, and her warmth could inspire anyone to find some enjoyment in the same. I would think that anyone would be able to find something in this – whether you’ve researched Austen before, or only read a few of her novels up until now.

This was a joy to read, and highly recommended.

SPFBO Round Three – The Reckoning

For my initial info post, please see here.

Slowly I’ve been going through my initial 30 entries – this included adding those that weren’t already on it to Goodreads (seriously authors, highly recommended…) and hmming over the cover contest aspect. It’s a busy time for reading, what with the Hugo Awards and, closer to home, opening the Aurealis Awards… but here and there I’ve gone through the following.

Overall I had 18 male, and 12 female authors (please correct me if I’m incorrect, or if you don’t identify with a gender), with page counts ranging from around 112 to 750.

Initially the first slash and dash is the easiest, taken from when I’m working my way through a slush pile. Do I want to keep reading? For the following pile I was able to discard two third on that basis alone. Because SPFBO is slightly different to a publishing slush pile I allowed them all until my eReader told me I was at 25% before I could move on to the next book. And I had to be harsh – I have to get my list of 30 to one, after all.

The following usually lost me due to either far too many misspellings or grammatical errors, or generally clumsy writing. I can’t stress highly enough how valuable editors are, or at least a critique group. A load of the below had good intentions and an interesting premise, but stumbled over hurdles left, right, and center due to simply not putting the time in to really polish their work.

And then some, unfortunately, were good but just weren’t as good as my initial ‘short’ list. Thems the breaks :(

Jackson Lear – Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper
Even the Grim Reaper can have trouble some days. The idea of that side of spiritual life having a mess of paperwork and Government style bureaucracy (much like the bureaucrat song from Futurama) is highly entertaining and works really well, and has a decent range of characters that keep the pages turning.
While this is fun, when I reflected back it felt like not a whole lot happened, and it didn’t have as much to recommend to others as those that clawed their way through the first round for me.

Lilian Oake – Nahtaia
Nahtaia, fae, is in trouble. Though she’s known to be trouble she has now stepped too far, and her magic has changed a human – something she must find out a way to correct before her powers will be granted back to her. It’s funny, it has a great range of characters, and it’s good when it shows that powers are a privilege and not a right.
This had strong writing – it built the world around the narrative softly and it was simply a joy to read. It just may possibly be aimed more at middle grade, which makes it hard to compare to the majority of titles. I really wish it well, and have recommended it to friends.

William C Tracy – Tuning the Symphony
Slightly more science than fantasy in some parts, we have mages who, through music, create necessary portals for travel purposes. Only the best of the best reach the highly distinguished ranks – unless needs must, and then our MC luckily gets through even though they almost fail the most important test of their life.
This was highly readable, however more of a novella than a novel, and as such parts weren’t as developed as they could have been – especially compared to other contenders. Some parts were too easy, whereas with more realistic trouble we would have had a novel out of this otherwise decent idea.

(Upon further thought, as this is a fantasy challenge this is just a little too sciency to compare to the others, and I’d love the chance to check as many books as possible. So I’ve asked for a replacement from the reserve list.)

Clinton Harding – Our Monsters
The monsters under your bed are real.
I have to admit, I didn’t make it to 25% on this one alone – there were far, far too many errors to make it readable – let alone the slightly stilted characters and dialogue.

Everly Frost – Beyond the Ever Reach
One of the more appealing aspects of Doctor Who is the immortality aspect. What if you were on Gallifrey among the rest, but you alone didn’t have that same ability? What if everyone was like Wolverine with his healing ability, except for you? Ava is this person, and as the weakest one around the reader goes through a lot to show just how breakable she is.
It’s an interesting question to pose, however it doesn’t quite meet the potential. From a worldbuilding aspect there are countless problems unanswered, and literally nothing about the world has changed except for that aspect – why hasn’t the author thought about the ripple on effect? Overall this is a fun read, but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Tamara Westberry – Divine and Dateless
Ash dies and goes to Heaven, and to her, heaven is having a boytoy, and she’s able to eat absolutely anything she likes without getting fat. However, her dream is soon snatched back away from her as it seems a paperwork issue sent her to the wrong floor, and she actually belongs in a world exactly like ours – where you have to go to work and so on.
The idea could have been interesting. It could have been funny, and a bit tongue in cheek… but honestly? And apologies for the harshness… overall it was fairly insipid and lacks decent characters. Highly superficial ad disappointing that there wasn’t some big reveal to twist everything on its head.

Meghan Ciana Doidge – Catching Echoes
Murder is afoot, and it’s up to this detective/witch to piece together what has happened. It could be quite good – fey style detective work and murder is always a good mix, however somehow this doesn’t manage to come all together. Although this is the first book of a series, it seems you’d get a lot more of the half-explained characters if you read her multiple other books first up, which is a disservice to the reader. There’s too much telling and not enough revealing through quality writing and enticing the reader along, and overall it feels like a first draft – many missing things just almost there under the surface, but not quite fully visualised just yet. A shame.

K.A. Stewart – Second Olympus
Greek Gods and the power they hold. Also known for impregnating mortals just to mess around with their lives a bit – which is good, as having a few mortal characters juxtaposes nicely with the names we’re well aware of, and their absolutely insane antics. Artemis is a brilliant god to read of!

This was gripping enough, but just didn’t hold it together as well as some others did with the basic quality of writing. Too much telling rather than showing, and some paragraphs really needed to be made tighter.

Kay Ling – Beyond the Forest
Lana works at her father’s jewelers where, using her knowledge of gem lore, she can find out things other people wouldn’t ever notice or wouldn’t be able to come across. We see Lana enter her journey and discover what else is out there, and throughout you like her character, and her drive.
This was an almost – and simply fell to the side because I had to whittle the list down further and further, that’s all. A little tighter, a little more engaging, and it would have been there. The kind of writing that just takes time to develop.

Christopher Bunn – The Fury Clock
Characters drive this story. What we have is a quest and and traveling troop trope and it’s handled well. The characters are absolutely mad and seem real because there’s a method to their madness, and they appear fully realised in the text.

Overall this just needs a bit of editing for a tighter start, and to ease the paragraphs into something a bit more, because it could be really quite clever with a bit more editing.

Christina Ochs – The Forsaken Crown
Captain Sonya Vidmar is an excellent lead character. Kendryk is a close second, a prince waiting for his time. Thankfully, it’s not with Kendryk that Sonya has a romance with. This is decent old fantasy of political intrigue and tough decisions which give the entire kingdom the weight that would exist.

The only thing that let this down was the dialogue and language, which came across a little stilted and made it hard to read and keep on reading – it could be very good without much effort.

Harmon Cooper – Fantasy Online
A bit meta and while it was a very fun read, it’s along the lines of Ready Player One where a virtual life such as experienced in a MMORPG can be just as vital as any real life. When Tamana is killed right in front of Ryuk he knows the only place he can go to find out why. To do so, he’ll have to level up his character as fast as possible, recruit the best gamers he can to assist, and start getting some gold into his account.
As I said, it’s fun, just a little too easy in parts.

Cameron Smith – The Holtur Enigma
A big bad evil is coming, and it’s up to Vivian to save them all. Whether he can or not is another question. He must rally those he can, and get through some smaller challenges along the way, sometimes with humour as his only weapon. This is gritty and hard fantasy where the land is unforgiving and you can only survive through your grim determination.
This one was a little short, and there were lengthy description passages that felt a little by the end that they were wasting valuable real estate. This could have worked at it’s current length if it were punchier, however it needs just a little work on its pacing.

David J Normoyle – The Silver Portal
A nice and easy read – soft fantasy for the YA market that follows the ‘coming of age’ tale that’s comfortable and well delivered. There are five chosen ones who are surprising picks for the weapons they are now matched to. They must find each other, and this is possibly where the novel needed a little work – five separate characters is a little hard to pull off at times, and there’s heaps of setup with not equal payoff. Really enjoyable, though.

Holly Evans – Stolen Ink
Tattoos that can come to life? Excellent! Except when someone can steal them, and hence take part of your soul, so you die a miserable miserable death? Not so excellent.
A really great idea, with sadly poor execution. Some areas were also problematic, specifically the use of the term ‘spirit animal’, which simply isn’t acceptable if you’re not from that culture, or even bother to have any Indigenous characters in the novel.

Jesse Teller – Liefdom
A fey story that’s a little different, and certainly aimed towards adults than the usual young or new adult crowd. Our main character in’t pretty and is quite disliked by his kind, which spurs him on towards the darkness and wondering about his place in their world and who his loyalties are to… ultimately to have to make a decision for his people and those be values.
This was good in many ways, if only for being a bit different, but unfortunately parts were a little clumsy and the novel doesn’t feel like a stand-alone. It feels like there’s a few plot lines left open or parts that don’t exactly make sense, which is a shame.

Dean F Wilson – The Call of Agon
This had such a strong start. Ifferon is our main character, and overcome by the burden set on his shoulders – to ensure a beast remains trapped beneath the earth and hence can’t harm the people of the world. This may seem like he should be trapped in the one place and make for a limited tale however Wilson finds a way to twist the plot into a journey instead – which is good, as it’s the only way we get to meet a single female character in this book…
The main reason that had me putting this book down was the characters. They didn’t feel individual or that they had their own developed voice – they all spoke the same, repeated each other, and generally slowed the pacing right down.

J.L. Madore – Blaze Ignites
A fun romp where Jade, a warrior, seeks revenge for her mother’s death but meets and falls for an elf along the way. Sexy times ensue. What really worked with this one is how the modern world met fae, and how they worked through that (bluetooth, mobile phones, excellent!)
What didn’t work was… not much, really, it just wasn’t strong enough overall to make it onwards.

Skyler Grant – Dungeon Crawl
Along the same lines as Fantasy Online – virtual world, where just because it’s an artificial reality it doesn’t make it any less real. There’s battles, allegiances, and so on.
Unfortunately this one just didn’t catch my attention. The start is a little confusing, the characters don’t seem to run naturally, and the sex was a little bemusing. Unfortunately the quality just wasn’t there for this one, which is harsh and my apologies.

R.D. Henderson – Wit Fallo
Whenever anything looks too good to be true one should always be highly suspicious and back away quickly. Unable to resist, Wit, a gnome who hates hard work, takes on something he shouldn’t have and gets in way over his head within moments. Along his troubles we have fun dialogue, fun characters, and just a good, easy-to-read tale.
This so nearly made it, and in the end simply wasn’t long enough. I finished it, and wanted to consider it further, but it felt more like a novella than a novel, and could have benefited from an extra layer of complexity to the plot or something. It has everything else right – few typos or errors, a great cover, great layout and formatting.

~

The ones that’ll appear in a later post? They are the following:

S.J. Madill – Magic Comes to Whiteport
Jamie Edmundson – Toric’s Dagger
Harrison Davies – Destiny of the Wulf
Aidan Meyer – Arcana Zero
Harry Connolly – The Way Into Chaos
V.B. Marlowe – A Girl Called Dust
Daniel Olesen – The Eagle’s Flight
Graham Austin-King – Faithless
R.S. McCoy – The Killing Jar Just not fantasy enough to be considered.
Adam Steiner – The Censor’s Hand

Congratulations so far to the above ten nine!

Review: Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Series: Yesterday’s Kin Trilogy #1
Published by: Tor
ISBN: 0765390299
ISBN 13: 9780765390295
Published: July 2017
Pages: 286
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Related Reviews: Yesterday’s Kin (novella) (2014)

Having previously read and loved Yesterday’s Kin, I was eagerly looking forward to this extended version (though the page count doesn’t expand by much). It starts of the same, with Dr Marianne Jenner being collected by the FBI in the middle of an evening celebration dedicated to her and her work, as she’s needed for the alien issue. Because aliens have landed, and it’s her work specifically that the entire world is now relying on.

Four months ago aliens arrived on earth. They set up shop, didn’t allow anyone on board or (to anyone’s knowledge) leave their own ship, but they started communicating immediately with the UN in English that rapidly improved the more study they took. Two months ago they requested permission to land their structure in New York Harbour and in return they’ll share some of their knowledge of physics (though not technology).

Now, though, Marianne along with very few others have been specifically invited on board the vessel. And you’ll just have to read on to find out what happens next.

The point of view changes between Marianne, her son Noah (who’s a bit of a failure at pretty much everything), and though the book starts of with rather a narrow focus, it expands as the plot expands and the deadline of the whole point of the book is revealed. Though the whole ten month thing is almost negligible – what this is really all about is family – it’s what holds Marianne together, and it’s what drives the aliens onwards.

What I don’t really remember from reading Yesterday’s Kin was the slightly awkward choice of deaths – first to one of the few (only?) black characters (Sissy), and then to the only gay character. Marianne also then sleeps with Sissy’s husband, for some reason. Yes, it shows the failings of our ‘hero’, but the actual choices were disappointing.

Overall this is more of a three-and-a-half star rating, but I bumped it up to four in case it’s just my preconceived ideas from remembering loving Yesterday’s Kin way more than I ended up liking this one.