The Blackwell Family Secret by John L. Ferrara

I wrote this review for the LibraryThing Early Review Program.

I am a big fan of Christian myth and lore, especially devil and angel lore. Watching the line blur between faith and fiction has always been something I did with some interest (I am a Christian myself, so understanding the line is a goal of mine). The explorations of those lores were probably the most interesting parts of THE BLACKWELL FAMILY SECRET, though underdeveloped, but unfortunately the main character was a pretty ungrateful and jerky turn off from those parts of the book that were interesting. Teenage-hood aside, I feel like his personality was a disservice to the plot and would have been interested in seeing this book told from the side of the girl sent by the Vatican to protect the main character, Nick.

C: interesting premise and decently fast read; main character makes the rest hard to appreciate

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Agony of the Gods by Tom Wolosz

I wrote this review for the LibraryThing Early Review program.

This book was not for me. The writing in AGONY OF THE GODS is plodding and belabored with an overabundance of purple prose and ineffective inner monologues filled with angst that doesn’t feel warranted. The “her” character is unbelievably fierce and yet seems pleased to play the passive in order to obtain information, but it feels so terribly out of character from her inner monologues that it’s incomprehensible as a character decision. In the first few chapters, the “his” character CANNOT stop obsessing about the “her” character’s beauty, yet keeps reminding himself that he has more important things to do and the constant back and forth in his own head throws me out of the narrative every time. Also, this book seems to subscribe to the motto, “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and I HATE that. I don’t believe that evil and harm (particularly sexual harm) to others is the natural descent of humanity as it holds great power.

This book’s plot is interesting, but the execution turned me off.

C-: interesting premise, distinct world building; writing stilted, characters inconsistent

Signatures by James A. Hetley

I wrote this review for the LibraryThing Early Review program.

I appreciate a book that puts limits on magic. I hate wizards who are one step removed from gods. Magic has a cost and I really appreciate it when it is the wizard (and not the amorphous universe or animals or plants) who has to pay that cost. That was one of the first things I noticed and appreciated about SIGNATURES. I felt like this was magic I could relate to because it wasn’t some all-powerful deus ex-machina. It was a tool that served several functions, but there were places it could not go. I also liked the subversion of the ‘long-lived magician’ trope. Magic, in this book, actually limits the life of the user because of how it burns energy for them. That was excellent. Also, the way the mystery was laid out was extremely interesting. I liked how things worked together and wove into each other. The plot was fun to follow and it was well-paced. I wanted to know who the killer was, but I didn’t mind the side trips into relevant details because they kept things moving in the right direction.

But even with all that good, I gotta say – the narrative devices didn’t work. The detective tells us at the beginning that he’s conflated cases to protect identities, he’s out-right lied in places, he’s not telling the story as it was but in a way that still gets it off his chest. Fine. Cool. Good to know. But the detective often breaks the fourth wall to remind the reader of that fact (and other things, too) and IT IS SO DISTRACTING. It took me about a week to read this book because I kept getting thrown out of the story by the narrator. The main character (and his unlikely sex god status) was CLEARLY wish-fulfillment and made it pretty darn obvious this book was written by a middle-aged white dude. This was also something that constantly threw me out of the narrative and the narrator’s fourth-wall breaking humble brags (In the vein of: “I know what you’re thinking, it’s totally unlikely that a fat, balding, retired cop would gather all these women to him, but I DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS THEY JUST THROW THEMSELVES AT ME!”) just made it worse. Each of the last four chapters felt like it should have been the ending, but there seemed to always be more chapters. !!!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!!! The author clearly tried to be inclusive, but the only diverse characters all DIE and one of them *entirely* unnecessarily – oh, and she’s PREGNANT (‘woman’s death is more tragic because she is pregnant’ is the most disgustingly over-used trope and I hate it and it should die). Also, the reveal of why these crimes were committed was so pathetic and tired and trope-tastic, it made me shout in anger.

In short: the book tried really hard, but ended up being VERY problematic.

C-: Plot was interesting, magic system well-developed and unique; trope-heavy, clichéd, and non-functional narrative devices.

Lucky’s Girl by William Holloway

I reviewed this book for LibraryThing Early Reviewer’s Program.

To begin, I must admit that this is NOT my genre. But, I have received many books through LibraryThing which are not my genre and still been able to give them honest, favorable reviews, if unenthusiastic. So, when I got a horror novel, I was prepared to maybe not appreciate the content, but still be able to appreciate the writing (if it proved appreciable).

But, this is not a horror novel, this is torture porn. I was sick at reading it. And, worst of all, the writing was NOT good, so there was really nothing that saved it for me. This only gets a half star because I do have to give some sort of number of stars for it to be counted in the review average.

First, the trigger warnings, for those who are considering reading the novel. You REALLY should know what you’re getting into. So, here goes: rape, gang rape, statutory rape, other coerced sexual acts, incest, child grooming, juvenile sexual activity, violent sex, emotional manipulation, cult behavior, mind control, racism (specifically toward Native Americans and Koreans), sexism, murder, bestiality, ‘devil’ worship, live evisceration of people, live evisceration of animals, torture of people and animals, cultural appropriation. These are the ones I remember. Honestly, I wish I didn’t. Every time I thought the author had written content as sick as it could get, he added on another layer. That did not contribute to the piece, though it seemed to be the goal. So, the goal was accomplished, but be aware that acknowledging that the author’s goal is accomplished is not the same as me complimenting the completion of it. I think it a dreadful SHAME that might have been the goal in the first place.

Now, as I said, the content was NOT my thing. If that’s what does if for you, now you know this is a book for you. BUT, when it comes to the writing, I was sadly disappointed as well. Repetitive descriptors become repetitive scenes. I literally could jump forward two pages and Lucky would be repeating the same things in practically the same wording and the scene would not have moved on at all. There were supposed to be several narrative voices – chapters came from many perspectives – but they weren’t distinct. I often had to double check context to figure out who was talking because the voices were all of the same vein. The characters were static, all the character arcs were small circles: if there was progression at all, there was always a retreat to the original status. There was racism and cultural appropriation, there were seriously harmful attitudes about women all over the manuscript (including that old gem, “she asked for it” TIME AND TIME again), and there was NO COUNTERPOINT. While I truly believe that this book is NOT indicative of the author’s predilections and inclinations (because, hello jail time if it were an indication), there was no narrative or character counterpoint. I’m not talking about moralizing or the perfect character – I understand this is intended to be a horror novel. But you can have people in a horror novel with a different flavor of horror than racist and sexist a**holes. And because there was no balance of character viewpoint, it made Lucky’s onanistic DRECK that much harder to read. And the plot suffered because of this static state of the characters’ arcs and attitudes: it literally had nowhere to go. Yes, there was a story, but it very one note and predictable. The most unpredictable part of the story was what new horrific act would the author come up with to add into an otherwise boring plot. This story relied on sensationalized violence to carry interest, not good story or character work.

As a side note: I question, seriously, the choice of title. The multitude of characters referred to as “Lucky’s girl” in the narrative are also the characters with the LEAST agency in the narrative and therefore are the least interesting characters. If this is the focus of the narrative, it only serves to make the book even MORE disappointing as all we do, when focused on these women, is look for something – ANYTHING – interesting.

I was prepared to try something new and give it a shot. I went in hoping to find a book to enjoy from a genre I don’t typically read. Instead, I found a poorly written book that had such terrible content that I cannot imagine picking up another horror novel at this point. “I know a slaughterhouse when I see one,” and I have NO DESIRE to step foot in one again.

F (sensationalized content in exchange for plot, lack of character arc, repetitive writing

What I’m Backing: Airline by Around the Clock Games

And we’re back with more Kickstarter awesomeness! To start off this round, we have a card game. I’ve backed a game by Around the Clock Games before, so I checked this one out when I heard AtCG had started a new campaign. Airline the Card Game by Around the Clock Games seemed like a simple, fun card game that would travel well.

Stats*:

  • Goal: $1,000
  • Funding Status: fully funded, several stretch goals unlocked**
  • Total Backers: 50+
  • Interesting Stretch Goals: Expansions to the game.
  • When Did I Jump In: First backer. That’s the first time I had the privilege. ;D

This campaign is one of those steady campaigns. They don’t do any huge funding leaps, but neither do they creep. It’s a very laid back sort of project, which seems to match the creator’s attitude pretty well. I backed the creator’s first campaign and liked the function and simplicity of the game play. I can explain the rules faster than most people can read them. Also, the delivery time was exemplary. So, when he reached out to the backers of the first campaign to let them know about this second campaign, I was pretty sure I’d back the new one. I did (FIRST!), and it funded in a few short days.

At that point, the creator did something very interesting and I’m watching closely to see how it pans out**: he unlocked a significant amount of stretch goals to hopefully broaden the appeal of the game. I’m not sure if this is a good strategy, as there has not been any significant bump in funding, but I appreciate why he did it. And I also appreciate the chance to get game expansions.

Simple is really the watch word of this campaign, though. The design is simple, attractively so. The game play is simple to explain, which was an excellent selling point for me – I cannot handle games that are too long or complicated in explaining if I’m not physically handling the components or watching play. The goal is simple. And I love that. Sometimes, creators get stuck in a real MUCK trying to make a game flashy. But simple, compelling games are so much more the welcome in my closet because they can be played nearly any time and anywhere. I hope Airplane manages to be one of those games for me. Rest assured, it’ll be reviewed on the blog.

I do hope this funds slightly higher than it does right now because I don’t want the creator to lose money and I want him to make more games! The good news is that there’s about a week left in the campaign and, if it gets the traditional final week surge, everything will be gravy. 😀

*As of posting 10/8 at 12:00 Mountain Time.

**Referential notes, see both instances of use.

[><] & [::]

The Maker, the Teacher, and the Monster by Leah Cutter

I received this book through LibraryThing’s Early Review program.

I really want to like Leah Cutter’s books. All of the ones I’ve read have interesting premises and characters. But she always seems lost. Her talent absolutely lies in character establishment and description (the way she describes magic in the three books of hers I’ve read is beautiful and her ability to translate details into images is very good), but not plot.

It’s frustrating to see the plot get lost so frequently. She’s ending her books stronger, but I still desire something a little more solid from her beginnings. It’s hard to stick with a book when the beginning is so slow (a problem all her books have shared). Inconsistent pacing also contributes to this “lost plot” problem.

I like her writing. I like her characters. But her plot and pacing are killing the reading buzz for me. That being said, Cutter has improved with each book, and so long as she does that, I’m willing to give her more chances.

The only thing I HAVE to note about the book is a SERIOUS issue that I see in SciFi ALL the time and I’m getting sick of it: mind-controlled sex is rape. Period. It doesn’t matter if the partners were having regular and consensual sex before the mind-control, there is no universe in which this is not rape. And I am so damn tired of seeing rape used as a plot device or fast, lazy character development without it being acknowledge for what it is. I will give that Cutter does a damn sight better than most authors, in that she has the character state she would need therapy, but NEVER ONCE is it called a rape. If we’re going to use rape as a literary device, we sure as hell should acknowledge it. So, trigger warning on that.

Definitely read this book after reading the first one, though.

B- (improved writing, interesting development; plot and pacing inconsistent, mystical rape, rape via mind-control)

[><] & [::]

The Clockwork Fairy Kingdom by Leah Cutter

I received this book through LibraryThing’s Early Review program.

THE CLOCKWORK FAIRY KINGDOM by Leah Cutter is the second book of hers I’ve read and I’ll admit to going in with a few hesitations due to my experience in the first book. I’m happy to report that she has improved.

The writing was better and I cared much, much more about the characters in this novel than I did the last. I found her treatment of the fairy caste system to be interesting, although I am a bit perturbed that the highest caste is described as fairer, paler than the lower castes. It’s not a big part of the story, but considering that Cutter did diversity SO WELL in the other book of hers I am hoping that we see a bit more diversity of color in the higher castes in the second book of the trilogy.

Dale and Nora are smart, well-balanced kids (both in general and well-balanced against each other). I must say, I loved that Nora saw art in destruction as much as in creation. I think that made a beautiful thematic thread in the story. And Dale, as an inherent fixer, not being able see that beauty also felt very real to me. The twins’ contrasting powers very much so were what I wanted in them.

However, just like the last book, I felt like the plot was unformed, like the author wasn’t sure where she was going until she got there. The villain wasn’t clear from the beginning. In fact, until the last few chapters, I thought the villain was Kostya. Then Chris showed up out of NOWHERE – not having been mentioned for chapters on chapters – and he seemed to be the central villain. And then it was back to Queen Adele and maybe Kostya and then Chris and then someone else! It was such a muddle. Also, much like the last book by Cutter that I read, the pacing was tentative, almost frightened, like the author wasn’t sure the reader would like it and stay with her if the pace picked up. I want to reach through the words and scream, “BE BOLD.”

I think this author could use a confidence boost – it would help her good writing be great. However, I do look forward to the next book!

Solid B (improved writing, good characters; plot still muddled and lost, tentative pacing)

[><] & [::]