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Book Review: The Department of Magic by Rod Kierkegaard, Jr.

June 30, 2012 2 comments

Image of woman holding a cross-bow.Summary:
Di Angelo and Farah thought they were getting a typical, boring DC government job.  But it turns out they have been assigned to the Department of Magic, and whether they like it or not, their horogaunt boss is having them face down demons, shifters, and more in repeated robberies to gather the pieces of George Washington in the hopes to bring him back to life to fight off the ancient Mexican gods who were stirred out of slumber by all the talk of the ancient Mayan prophecy of the end of the world in 2012.

Review:
I have not hated a book this much since finishing Anne Rice’s The Wolf Gift in February (review).  On the plus side, this means you all get to enjoy an angry Amanda take-down style review.  On the minus side, I had to suffer through this horrible thing.  But this is what book reviewers do.  We suffer through things and tell you about them so you don’t have to.

This book has a triple-whammy of awful.  It has so many grammar and spelling mistakes that I can’t believe it ever made it through an editor (oh but it did!).  The plot is confusing and ill-paced.  Finally, and most importantly, it is so prejudiced I had to double-check that this wasn’t a pen-name for Ann Coulter.  Too often I’ve made these assertions in the past but been unable to truly show them to you since it was a library book or some such.  Enter: the kindle.  But first let me quickly explain the plot/structure/pacing issues.

So Farah and Di Angelo aka Rocky are hired by this mysterious department in the US government.  There is a lot that makes zero sense about the department.  First, it appears to only consist of Rocky, Farah, and their boss Crawley (a horogaunt).  Anyone who has worked in the US government *raises hand* knows that they do not underhire. They overhire.  So this just makes the author look like he knows nothing about government.

Throughout the book, Farah and Rocky have this problem of carrying out covert operations for the department and almost getting arrested and wanted for murder and blah blah blah.  Um, excuse me. This is the motherfuckin government.  If they want George Washington’s sword they “borrow” it.  If they can’t “borrow” it, they send in government agents and protect them from prosecution because, I reiterate, this is the motherfuckin government.  A department that supposedly exists to keep America aligned with the goddess America and protected from demons and vampires and what-have-you that no one else knows about would probably be a Big Deal on the inside. So this plot point makes no sense.

Then there’s the pacing issues.  The pacing goes up and down and up and down and the reader keeps prepping for a climax only to get none.  I think you see the analogy I am going for here. And it sucks.

Moving right along, let’s get to just a few of the more egregious grammar, spelling, and other writing I caught in this *laughs hysterically* edited book.

rung off. (location 385)

Americans hang up. No one in this book is British. The narrator is not British. This is stupid.

He could feel her hot breath, fetid as a zoo animal’s gorged on fresh meat. (location 752)

This is a bad analogy, as any high school student can tell you, because the vast majority of people don’t KNOW what a zoo animal’s breath smells like.  An analogy is supposed to help a reader connect an unknown thing to a known thing.

Kabbala (location 858)

This is not how you spell Kabbalah.

Then she pulled both of their caps off and bit him on the mouth. (location 1889)

No, this is not a scene between one of our heroes and a demon. This is supposed to be Farah romantically kissing Rocky. Was that the image you got from that? Didn’t think so.

The most terrifying form devils or demons can take.  No one has lived to describe them. (location 1889)

This comes from the federal book on beasts and demons that our heroes read and start every chapter with an excerpt from. Question. If no one has ever lived to describe these demons then a) how do you know they exist and b) how the hell are you describing them in this book?!

Her face was beautiful, appearing radiantly soft-cheeked and virginal in one instant, a rotting grinning skull, a death-mask in the next. (location 3922)

If you are writing a sentence comparing something from one instant to the next, you can’t compare three things! Two. Two is your limit.

Ok, but obviously I wouldn’t hate a book this hard for bad plot and some (ok a lot of) writing problems.  I’d give advice and encouragement. The hating on the book comes from the prejudice hitting me left and right. It was like running the obstacle course in Wipe-Out!  I can’t and won’t support or recommend a book to someone else as not for me but maybe for them when it’s this painfully prejudiced throughout.  Let’s begin, shall we?

Look, hon, you know you’ve got zero will-power.  Honestly you’re like a lesbian.  You go out with this guy a couple times, you’ll move in together on your third date.  I see him all day, every day.  I don’t want him underfoot when I come home too.  Plus he’s too poor for you. (location 741)

Oh look! Homophobia!  The sad part is you can tell that Kierkegaard thinks he’s being funny when he’s just flat-out offensive.  To top off this delightful bit of dialogue, we’ve got classism.  And I feel I should mention the man they are talking about is an Iraq War vet.  But he’s poor. And clearly that is what matters in dating.  Homophobia is not quite this blatant throughout the rest of the book, although we do have a *delightful* scene in which Bobbi (a girl) shows up to seduce Rocky, who she thinks is gay, since Farah spread a rumor that Rocky is gay to keep her fiancee from being upset that she’s working with a man. Yeah. That happened.

There is more blatant classism, though.

Baltimore is the blue-collar ugly step-sister of the white-collar Washington DC metropolitan area. (location 1250)

Noooo, comparing hardworking people with blue collar jobs to the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella is not offensive at all.

*sighs*

Also, pretty much every demon “disguises” themself as a homeless person. This means almost every homeless person our heroes run into is a demon. Seriously.

And what about women?

The reason I’m so into Nineteenth Century romantic literature, I guess, is because I love anything that reminds me of growing up with my mom and my sisters and gets me inside women’s heads. (location 1214)

Yes! Let’s just go ahead and say that Jane fucking Austen represents every woman’s head everywhere in the 21st century. That’s just awesome.

Speaking of women, I will say this. Farah is the more talented of the duo in climbing, which is nice.  However, she and every other woman are presented as shallow and obsessed with fashion.  Also, a baby is born, and Farah turns overnight into a doting mother-figure when she was a sorority-sister type girl mere hours before.  Meanwhile, the actual mother fails at parenting, and the only explanation for this utter lack of ability with babies is that she is a vampire.

I’m not sure what the precise word is for it….xenophobia perhaps?  But Kierkegaard makes it abundantly clear that only Protestants have the whole religion thing right.

White or “good” magic, he told her, already had a name.  It was called “prayer.” And even prayer, unless directly addressed to God the Creator, is in essence a Luciferian transaction, because it relies on the intercession of intermediaries, such as saints or boddhis, and inevitably involved some sort of quid pro quo. (location 1545)

Speaking of religion, no hateful book would be complete without some anti-semitism tossed in there, would it?

Freemasons–A Lucifer-worshipping conspiracy cult dedicated to Zionist one-world government, heirs of the Christ-murdering Pharisees and the Knights Templar. (location 1596)

Christ. Murdering. Pharisees. He actually went there. And not only are they the Christ killers but! They also secretly run the world through a Satan-worshipping secret organization!

I would have thrown the book across the room at this point, but it was on my kindle, and I love my kindle.

And finally. To round it all out. We’ve got some good, old-fashioned American racism.

First we have the black man who spoke entirely normally until this sentence:

You got any questions you need to axe me, you know where I live. (location 1193)

Then we have the Asian-American man who can’t pronounce his own name:

There they consecutively picked up a squat red-faced Asian named Robert, which he pronounced as “Robot,” and a noisy and vituperative older black man in a water-sodden daishiki named Walkie-Talkie. (location 3225)

Beyond these blatant examples there’s the fact that every person of color is either actually a demon in disguise or working for the seedy underground of some sort of organization.  The exception to this is Farah, who is Lebanese-American, but Kierkegaard takes extreme care to point out that she is NOT Muslim. She’s one of the Christian Lebanese-Americans.  She also basically acts just like a white sorority girl but with an exotic look!!

See? See? I just. *sighs*  The only people who might not be horribly offended by this book are the type of people I don’t really want to recommend books to anyway, except to be like “Here, read this book that might make you realize what a douchebag you are being, like say some classics of black literature or books on how hard it is to be gay in an evangelical family or maybe read about the real history of the Bible.”  You see my point.

The only people who would enjoy this book are people who have this same prejudiced world-view against basically everyone who isn’t a white, straight, Protestant, American male. So, I guess, if that’s you, have at it?  But it’s riddled with spelling, grammar, and plot problems, so you won’t enjoy it anyway. So hah.

1 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Cookbook Review: 130 New Winemaking Recipes by C. J. J. Berry

June 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Wine, bread, and fruit on a table.Summary:
A recipe book for making your own wine at home. Geared toward those who already have winemaking skills.

Review:
I requested this via Netgalley um *coughs* last year when I had the dream of making my own wine.  People in my family have done this for years, so I thought I might.  Well….the start-up and learning curve are a bit more than I anticipated or had time for, so I wasn’t able to make any of the recipes.  I did, however, still want to provide a review, particularly since I sent my dad a few of the recipes. (He has his own winemaking set-up).  So, let me put on my librarian uniform and get to it!

Given that making your own wine is kind of a down-home skill, the tone of this book is perfect.  Berry takes on an older relative giving you the low-down on secret family recipes tone to his writing, and it works beautifully.

The wine recipes are primarily organized alphabetically, although a few that are similar (elderberry wines, for instance) are clumped together that way.  It sounds odd, but it makes sense when reading through the book.  The book ends with some holiday punch recipes (including wassail) and, oddly, some beer brewing ones.

The recipes themselves are easy to understand, but I would suggest in the future that Berry either numbers the steps, bullet points, or splits up into a few paragraphs.  They are basically one huge paragraph, which can be less easy to use.  Another suggestion I would make is that the wines for the most part don’t say if they are red or white, and I’m sure that is something the reader would like to know before getting going in the making.

Overall, this is a nice collection of wine making recipes.  It feels as if your uncle handed you a book of secret family recipes, just the alcohol variety.  A working knowledge of winemaking is assumed, so this is recommended to those who already have a wine making setup and want to try out some new, unique recipes.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Waiting For Daybreak Blog Tour and Reviews

June 26, 2012 13 comments

Waiting For Daybreak Blog Tour Official Banner

Blog Tour

The schedule for Waiting For Daybreak‘s official blog tour featuring reviews, guest posts, interviews, and giveaways!!!!  A huge thank you to every single participating blog for their support of not just myself, but indie authors in general.

July 2012
13—
Earth’s Book Nook    guest post and giveaway
14–The Chronicles of an Enamored Soul    review and giveaway
15–Tabula Rasa    review and interview
18–Nicki J. Markus    review, interview, and giveaway
22–From Me To You…    review and interview
23–The Paperback Pursuer    review
25–Kelsey’s Cluttered Bookshelf    review, interview, and giveaway
26–Bookishly Me    interview
27–Fangs for the Fantasy    review
30–Gizmo’s Book Reviews    interview

August 2012
2–Cynthia Shepp    guest post and giveaway
6–Ellie Hall    guest post
Eva’s Sanctuary    review and interview
10–Lily Element    review
11–Wickedly Bookish    interview and giveaway
13–Ellie Hall    review
1889 Labs    review
15–The Book Hoard    review and giveaway
16–Persephone’s Winged Reviews    review
17–Offbeat Vagabond    review, interview, and giveaway
18–Mervi’s Book Reviews    review
Blood, Sweat, and Books    review and interview
20–Paperless Reading    review
21–An Eclectic Bookshelf    review and interview
29–Just a Lil’ Lost…    review
Obsessions of a LibraryGurl    review
Reflections of a Book Addict    interview and giveaway
30–Obsessions of a LibraryGurl    interview
Reflections of a Book Addict    review
31–Opinions of a Wolf    author’s wrap-up!

Thank you again to all the tour participants!!

Reviews

Blogs that have accepted review copies of Waiting For Daybreak are listed below with a direct link to their review of Waiting For Daybreak and interviews/guest posts/giveaways, if applicable, in parentheses.  Accepting a review copy is just as supportive of indie authors as participating in a blog tour, so thank you very much, bloggers!

Beauty in Ruins (review)
Eastern Sunset Reads (review and guest post)
Fishmuffins of Doom (review)
Love, Literature, Art, and Reason (review and interview)
Minding Spot (review)
Nylon Admiral (review)
Pinuccia’s World of Books (review)
Reflections (review)
Zephyr Book Reviews (review)

Book Review: The Bay of Foxes by Sheila Kohler

June 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Young African man peaking around a door.Summary:
Dawit is a twenty year old Ethiopian refugee hiding out illegally in Paris and barely surviving.  One day he runs into the elderly, famous French writer, M., in a cafe.  Utterly charmed by him and how he reminds her of her long-lost lover she had growing up in Africa, she invites him to come live with her.  But Dawit is unable to give M. what she wants, leading to dangerous conflict between them.

Review:
This starts out with an interesting chance meeting in a cafe but proceeds to meander through horror without much of a point.

Although in the third person, we only get Dawit’s perspective, and although he is a sympathetic character, he sometimes seems not entirely well-rounded.  Through flashbacks we learn that he grew up as some sort of nobility (like a duke, as he explains to the Romans).  His family is killed and imprisoned, and he is eventually helped to escape by an ex-lover and makes it to Paris.  This is clearly a painful story, but something about Dawit in his current state keeps the reader from entirely empathizing with him.  He was raised noble and privileged, including boarding schools and learning many languages, but he looks down his nose at the French bourgeois, who, let’s be honest, are basically the equivalent of nobility.  He judges M. for spending all her money on him instead of sending it to Ethiopia to feed people, but he also accepts the lavish gifts and money himself.  Admittedly, he sends some to his friends, but he just seems a bit hypocritical throughout the whole thing.  He never really reflects on the toppling of the Emperor in Ethiopia or precisely how society should be ordered to be better.  He just essentially says, “Oh, the Emperor wasn’t all that bad, crazy rebels, by the way, M., why aren’t you donating this money to charity instead of spending it on me? But I will tooootally take that cashmere scarf.” Ugh.

That said, Dawit is still more sympathetic than M., who besides being a stuck-up, lazy, self-centered hack also repeatedly rapes Dawit.  Yeah. That happened. Quite a few times.  And while I get the point that Kohler is making (evil old colonialists raping Ethiopians), well, I suppose I just don’t think it was a very clever allegory.  I’d rather read about that actually happening.

In spite of being thoroughly disturbed and squicked out by everyone in the story, I kept reading because Kohler’s prose is so pretty, and I honestly couldn’t figure out how she’d manage to wrap everything up.  What point was she going to make?  Well, I got to the ending, and honestly the ending didn’t do it for me.  I found it a bit convenient and simplistic after the rest of the novel, and it left me kind of wondering what the heck I just spent my time reading.

So, clearly this book rubbed me the wrong way, except for the fact that certain passages are beautifully written.  Will it work for other readers?  Maybe.  Although the readers I know with a vested interest in the effects of colonialism would probably find the allegory as simplistic as I did.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Counts For:
Specific country? Ethiopia. South African author.

Announcement: New Cover For Ecstatic Evil (And Coupon For Free Copies To Celebrate!)

June 25, 2012 2 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

One thing I believe as an indie author: it’s important to pay attention to constructive criticism.  If you hear something over and over about a book from various sources, then it’s probably a valid critique.  Now, most things I won’t go back and change on an old book; I’ll just apply them to future books.  Two exceptions to that rule are: formatting and cover.

Well, Ecstatic Evil got fairly good reviews, but almost everyone commented on how much they didn’t like the cover.  Also, since I discovered Smashwords and their clearer formatting guidelines, I redid the interior formatting. (It is so much prettier now on the kindle!  One thing you can say for Smashwords: they are a bit more helpful to authors when it comes to formatting than kdp. But I digress).

In any case, I decided that A) I want to call attention to the fixed formatting issues (none of the story itself was changed) and B) I wanted to show readers and reviewers that I listen and C) I want my books to all have a certain vibe to them for branding purposes, even if they aren’t a part of the same series.  So. I made an entire new cover!

This is the old cover:

And THIS is the new one:

:-D

I think this reflects the series better.  The scale shows the choice between demon and fairy that Tova is faced with, the moon reflects how much of the story takes place at night (and involves shifters), and the silhouette style goes nicely with Waiting For Daybreak.

To celebrate I am offering up unlimited FREE copies of Ecstatic Evil from now until the end of June!!!!!  The ebook versions available are: Kindle, epub, pdf, Sony Reader, RTF, plain text, palm doc, html, and javascript.  Simply go to Ecstatic Evil’s Smashwords page, put it in your cart, and enter the 100% off coupon code at check-out:

HB93D –100% off coupon code

I really do help you will join me in celebrating how much I’ve learned in the year since Ecstatic Evil first came out and that you like the new cover as much as I do!!

Book Review: The Mount by Carol Emshwiller (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

June 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Man in reins and bit.Summary:
Charley is an 11 year old Seattle and wants to be the best mount there is for his owner, Little Master.  He eats his dry cakes, practices on the go-round, and behaves well.  Little Master mostly likes their lessons.  His ears wiggle, so Charley knows he’s giggling.  But one day Wilds attack the village.  They say that people are meant to be people, not mounts for Hoots.  But the Hoots say the mounts were made for them, see how the primate species are perfectly designed for riding?  It’s all very confusing for Charley.

Review:
It doesn’t take much guess-work to figure out how this wound up on my TBR pile.  It’s a rather obvious allegory for animal rights, although instead of apes enslaving people like in Planet of the Apes, it’s an alien species with cat-like ears and weak legs enslaving humans.  The concept is a good one, but the execution fell short for me, which is sad, because I wanted to love it.

The structure of the book is problematic.  The first chapter is from the perspective of an entirely random Hoot who we never see again. Ever.  We also never see his mount again.  This is just weird.  The rest of the book is told from the first person perspective of Charley, except for one random chapter narrated by his father.  I don’t mind switching perspectives, but there should be some sort of consistency about it, and we should have at least a vague idea who the character in the new perspective is.

I also found myself completely baffled by Charley.  In spite of being enslaved by the Hoots, he still wishes to use a bit one day and other things that drive his father nuts, and one cannot help but agree with his father.  He never seems to really learn better through the book either.  He persists in loving his Hoot and being a mount for his Hoot.  That doesn’t work as an allegory for animal rights or slavery.

Emshwiller does show how teenage boys clash with their fathers very well, however.  Charley’s relationship with his dad, Heron, is well fleshed-out and intriguing.  They want to connect and love each other but struggle with how, exactly, to do that when they are so different yet so similar.  Looking back, this relationship is what kept me reading.  It shines in spite of the other oddities in the book.

I won’t spoil it, but the ending bothered me as well, and I found it profoundly confusing.  In fact, I’d say for the book as a whole I am simply left perplexed by it.  I feel like I missed something or didn’t quite get an accurate picture of the world they are living in or something.

Overall, it’s a very different take on humans being enslaved by another species, but its execution is rather disappointing.  Recommended to readers with a marked interest in scifi depictions of human slavery.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Beyond the Misty Shore by Vicki Hinze (Series, #1)

June 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Red headed woman near a house on the seashore.Summary:
Maggie Wright comes to the cozy Maine bed and breakfast, Seascape, not for a vacation, but to investigate the mysterious death of her cousin, Carolyn.  Carolyn’s artist fiancee, TJ MacGregor, just so happens to be staying at Seascape, but a mysterious force is preventing him from leaving.  Despite the tragedy standing between them, they start to fall for each other.

Review:
This is obviously a romance with a dash of mystery and a touch of ghosts.  Maine is a wonderful setting, particularly for a paranormal romance.  This one just didn’t work for me, although I can clearly see how it will be able to find an audience.

I found the writing, particularly the romance, to ring a bit….old-fashioned and conservative.  The characters all seem to speak in the same speaking style as the elderly woman who manages the inn.  That works for her, and she is definitely my favorite character in the book, but it doesn’t work so well for TJ and Maggie who are both young and from New Orleans.  I’m sure some readers would find the clean, conservative manner in which they talk a bit of fresh air, but to me it was dull and felt like a book my grandma gave me to get started out in romances when I was in middle school.

Similarly, the way the entire town is willing to appease the local pastor when it comes to things like alcohol and condoms kind of enraged me.  For instance, the convenience store will only sell condoms to married couples upon the request of the pastor. I mean WHAT?! That is just not even LEGAL.  But.  As a book reviewer, I can definitely see that a more conservative crowd would appreciate the idea of a town where that sort of understanding could exist.

So, ignoring the fact that this book is far too conservative for me, there is one other issue that bothered me.  I found the mystery of Carolyn’s death entirely confusing.  At first I thought that Maggie came to Seascape to investigate the death because Carolyn died up there, but toward the end of the book, it sounds like she died in New Orleans.  Which was it?  And if she did die in New Orleans, then why did Maggie go to Seascape in the first place?  Also, people think the car crash was mysterious because the painting she had with her was undamaged, but then toward the end of the book they say no the undamaged painting wasn’t found at the car, it’s just that it had disappeared and reappeared.  Or something.  I’m still very confused about everything about Carolyn, which is problematic given that this is the central conflict keeping our romantic couple apart.  The mystery should be mysterious but not illogical.

Overall, this is a romance novel that was not for me, but will appeal to more conservative romance readers.  People looking for an old-timey style romance with a touch of ghosts will appreciate it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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