Saturday, December 17, 2011

When Love Isn't Enough by Stephanie Casher

Title: When Love Isn't Enough
Author: Stephanie Casher
Genre: Romance
Publisher: The Pantheon Collective (TPC) (November 1, 2010)
Available: $15.95 at Amazon
Rating: 3 stars
Rater: Lauri

Plot summary: After awakening from a drunken one-night stand, Sam, a college student, heads to the Santa Cruz beach, where she meets Tony, the guy from up the hill who has apparently been observing her oft-times trips to watch the sun set from this spot. They click, and spend the day together. During their frolic, Tony admits that he's not single, but the something that's between them means Sam's not willing to walk away. And then Angela, the girlfriend, gets involved.

The good: I loved that this story abandons the too-common worship of all that's blonde and blue-eyed, and instead features a panoply of non-white and less than perfect characters. Second, I like that this story works hard to abandon the tired old romantic plots and reaches for something else.

What needs work: The author tells way too much and shows far too little, and she narrates this story from what I call "movie-viewer perspective" (more commonly called "shallow third person"). I could not get inside any of the characters, and had a hard time caring about what happened to any of them.

In sum, the story offers a refreshing change from all that's tired in romance, and if you're looking for something a bit less predictable, this is one you should read.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Silver Thaw By Amy Rose Davis

Title: Silver Thaw
Author: Amy Rose Davis
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Self-published 
Rating: 5 stars
Rater: Pippa

Plot Summary: In a mining town filled with forgotten men and used up women, a handcuffed girl and her deaf guard arrive just as a blizzard descends. Lured by the girl’s singing and driven by an old obsession, one man releases an ancient spirit that could destroy the town and the estate it supports. As the year wears on, the murderous spirit tightens its grip on the town and the estate, living on an ever-rising wind that descends from the mountain. Brave and holy men seek to destroy the evil, but few return alive. Those who do return have few wits left.

When others fail, a donkey handler named Clem must risk the simple, peaceful life he’s carved for himself to save it from destruction. Unfortunately, Clem knows that when the wind comes down the mountain, even the most steadfast men can’t resist its call.

It takes a lot to hook me into a story these days, but this one did it. Silver Thaw is an entertaining fantasy, smoothly told, with wonderful world-building and believable, consistent characters and a chilling edge of horror. If I was pressed to make any criticism, and I’m struggling to do so here, it would simply be the POV characters who die. Having gotten so far into their heads and characters, it just jarred a little for me, though I think that's a tribute to the writer's skill in making me empathize with them so deeply. The author clearly knows her craft and how to spin a good tale. The ending left me with tears in my eyes and the intention to read it again very soon. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Title: Snuff
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Harper (October 11, 2011)
Available: $15.84 at Amazon
Rating: 4 stars
Rater: Lauri

Plot summary: Sam Vimes is going on vacation. To the countryside. And Sybil and Young Sam are, of course, coming along. But things here aren’t all quiet nights and milking cows. Something is afoot: something that smells (and it isn't just Young Sam's new favorite hobby). Before Sam can shake a walking stick, he’s pulled into a mystery wrapped up in a country-bred blanket.

The good and the bad: Let me first say that Sam Vimes is perhaps my favorite character – ever by any author outside my own storytelling. I love Sam, adore him, identify with him, and fervently wish I knew him. But there are parts of this book where I don’t even recognize him. Or Sybil, his wife, for that matter. For instance, at one point toward the beginning, Sybil makes some remarks about how Sam “matters” now, and how maids do not, and I had to take a step back. I nearly put the book away then. 

One of the things I love about these characters, this writer, and this world is Pratchett's razor-sharp insight that pierces “things” – beliefs, usually – most of us never even realize are there, much less examine. Often that means peeling back the skin of some pretty fundamental ideas, like religion, and class. And one thing Pratchett is not is an apologist for the peerage, and that’s one of the things I like most about him.

However, I read Pratchett not for insight, but for comfort. His characters are, at heart, profoundly good, and there is an underlying sweetness and redemption to all he writes. When things in the real world push me down, I hide in an alley behind a cardboard box and devour Sam Vimes. 

Despite its shortcomings, the story redeems itself, and I felt touched before the final pages, but, and while I’ll keep the book, this is not a story I’ll read again for a while. 

Outlaw by Angus Donald

Title: Outlaw
Author: Angus Donald
Genre: Historical Fiction/Robin Hood story
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (April 12, 2011)
Available: $10.19 at Amazon 
Rating: 4.5 stars
Rater: Lauri 

Plot summary: Alan Dale, a child, is caught stealing and sent away from his family – and to the camp of the legendary Robin Hood. Lessons ensue, some bloody, some heartbreaking, but all mold young Alan into an increasingly fierce and loyal warrior. 

The good: Donald writes with that flair that only the most skilled of writers can muster. Each character is a study, and lives and breathes beneath your fingers. The action is well-painted, and the story well-told.

What needs work: The sexism in this book left me gagging more than once. I realize that this is supposed to be 12th Century England, but really? 

I bought this book because I love medieval battles, both small- and large-scale, and have heard good things about Donald’s writing. He did not disappoint. If your urges pull you to relive historical Europe, this is a book you need to read.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Falstaff Vampire Files by Lynne Murray

Title: The Falstaff Vampire Files
Author: Lynne Murray
Genre: Paranormal (Vampire) Adventure/ Romance
Publisher: Pearlsong Press* (August 17, 2011)
Available: $4.99 at Amazon
Rating: 5 stars
Rater: Lauri 

Plot summary: Kris Marlow, psychologist, formerly mistress of a happy life, has just discovered that her lover is, well, loving someone else. She wants to hold it together, to work through it, but life interferes, and some of that life is supernatural. Vampiric even. And then her neighbor gets involved . . .

The good: This is a story you’ll lose yourself in. Murray’s writing skill flies far above the norm, and the characters are realistic, and smart, and real. I wanted to hate the girlfriend, but I couldn’t. I wanted to scoff at the vampire, but I couldn’t. I read this so closely I nearly missed the Shakespearean references. Best part, IMO: the characters are not jut real, they’re real-life-sized.

What needs work: Not one single thing.

This is one of those rare, five-star books. One that you buy in hard copy just to put on your shelf because you know that in the future you’re going to be reading this one again.

*Disclaimer: Pearlsong publishes my books, too, but that did not influence my review in even the slightest degree.

Discovery of Death by A.P. Fuchs

Title: Discovery of Death (Blood of My World, Novella One): A Paranormal Romance
Author: A.P. Fuchs
Genre: YA/Paranormal (Vampire) Romance
Publisher: Coscom Entertainment (April 22, 2011)
Available: Free at Amazon
Rating: 3 stars
Rater: Lauri 

Plot summary: Zach awakes one day and discovers he's an amnesiac vampire. Rose, his former sweetheart, not only has to contend with losing Zach, but she learns she's a vampire slayer. Can love conquer all? Can they beat the odds?

The good: The author is not a beginning writer. He knows not to start every sentence with "He"/"She," and he knows how to develop a plot. I really liked the sentimental sweetness.

What needs work: I couldn't get into the heads of the characters. They don't have strong individual voices, and I couldn't feel anything the author told me they felt.

All in all, a three-star book. It's a cute, Romeo and Juliet story that, if you like YA vamp stories, is worth adding to your kindle bookshelf.