Review: “Rarity from the Hollow,” Robert Eggleton

Pros: It’s unique!
Cons: Confusion
Rating: 4 out of 5

NOTE: Review book provided by publisher/author

 

Rarity From the Hollow, by Robert Eggleton, is a bizarre and unique tale. It involves a gigantic alien mall, telepathic roaches, a ghost inhabiting a piece of firewood, competitive shopping, an android that’s turning human and dealing with puberty, an early-teens girl who’s being paid by aliens to save the universe, and a whole lot of weed and erections. Also, it includes an intergalactic yard sale.

I found one major aspect of the writing confusing until I finally figured it out (maybe it should have been obvious, but it’s just so unusual). After many conversational pieces, there’ll be a second brief paragraph that looks like conversation but in plain text with no attribution of any kind. What made it even harder to grasp was the fact that they seemed like thoughts of different people. It’s so rare for books to go the full third-person omniscient route that it took me a while to realize that’s exactly what Eggleton was doing. So, whenever there’s something that reads like thought or dialogue but doesn’t have quotation marks, it’s a thought taken from the mind of whoever just had the last dialogue line.

Despite the fact that the main character (Lacey Dawn) is a girl in her early teens, this isn’t a book for that age group. Most of the sex-related humor is pretty harmless (near-constant erections, lots of masturbation, some off-screen sex, and a ton of teasing), but there are some early background pieces that involve child molestation and other types of child abuse. The volume of erections and masturbation got a bit old, but that kind of humor is very reader-dependent.

I found the side characters more interesting than Lacey. There’s DotCom (the android), Tom (the harmless pot-growing neighbor), Lacey Dawn’s parents (they start out abusive and literally get a personality overhaul a short distance into the book), Faith (the dead friend of Lacey Dawn), and Brownie (the dog). DotCom becomes pretty annoying when he undergoes puberty and the constant accompanying erections get pretty old, but he eventually recovers.

I can’t really get into how Lacey Dawn is expected to save the universe, nor what she’s supposed to save it from, since a large portion of the book is occupied with figuring out those two pieces of information. I will say that the book drew me in well enough that I really wanted to know how they would pull it off, and I enjoyed the payoff.

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Review: “Oneironaut,” Phoenix Williams

Pros: Unusual style and voice; concept grew on me
Cons: Terrible grammar and… well, weird stuff
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Phoenix Williams’s Oneironaut is a story about Henry, who lives two parallel lives. One is the ‘real world’, while the other is a dream. While the dream world isn’t always a nice world, it’s better than the one he always goes back to. He’s even fallen out of love with his real wife, Helen, while falling in love with Maggie, a woman from his dream. As Henry becomes more and more attached to the dream world, his real world self descends into madness as he attempts to spend all of his time in dreams. And as for his dreams–they’re taking a dangerous turn.

 

I’m having the damndest time figuring out how to rate this book. The author uses terrible grammar, and there are a lot of off-the-wall word choices that left me saying, I don’t think that word means what you think it means:

Henry let out an amazed swoon.

There are cases when the unusual and unexpected word choices could be a deliberate style choice contributing to a unique writer’s voice. On the other hand, quite a few lines depict actions that are physical impossibilities:

He … picked himself back up so quick that his bones seemed to be made of gelatin.

I’m pretty sure that if his bones were made of gelatin he wouldn’t be able to stand at all, let alone get up unusually quickly. In Williams’s text there are “eyes being shifty” and “an intense look of action” on a man’s face (what does a ‘look of action’ even look like?). I wonder whether Williams learned English as a second language. Some wordings seem less like a grammar mistake or spelling error than perhaps a case of differing cultural context. There are certain oddities that have that feel of being poorly translated from something that originally made a different kind of sense.

To move on from the wording, elements of the back-and-forth between the real world and the world of dreams intrigued me while others just confused. It took me a while to get pulled in as Henry goes from dream sequence to dream sequence seemingly at random, but later on a plot takes form. There’s very little action at all in this book, but the highly-detailed dreams can be oddly compelling. The weird word problems pulled me out at times, but toward the end of the book I wanted to know what happened next in his world of dreams.

I guess I’ll go with a 2.5 out of 5. In almost any other book the volume of grammar and word issues would drop this rating to a one or two, but the unusual writer’s voice and the oddly compelling later dreams pull that number up.

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Review: “Fika” (cookbook), Brones & Kindvall

Pros: Sooo delicious!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break is an absolutely delicious cookbook! It explains that in Sweden having coffee is more than just grabbing a cup of java to go–it involves a bit of relaxation, sociability, and delightful foods.

Each recipe we tried from this book came out perfectly. They were all delightful and very, very difficult to stop eating! I suspect the social aspect of fika is there to keep people from eating too many cookies themselves.

Oat cookies with chocolate filling

Oat crisp chocolate sandwich cookies

The oat sandwich cookies went over wonderfully when we brought them to a gathering of friends, and that’s despite the fact that we made them in advance and froze them. They were just as good after thawing as the ones we tried fresh.

Many of these recipes are short and easy, and the instructions are quite clear:

The ideal of homemade is at the heart of this book. In fact, it is the essence of every single recipe. While we have modernized many of the recipes so that they’re easy for even the beginner baker, the book isn’t about speeding up the baking process and taking shortcuts.

Coconut peaks

Coconut peaks

One afternoon I got it in my head at the last minute to make coconut peaks; the only ingredient in it that one might not already have in the house is the unsweetened coconut. They were easy to throw together in minutes, and so delicious we didn’t end up saving any for friends (oops). The ones in the picture are a little pale; while I think I probably should have baked them for a couple of extra minutes, they were still to-die-for.

Blackberry almond cake

Blackberry almond cake

Despite how good those two cookie recipes were, the blackberry almond cake is my favorite of the things we made. It’s a bit like clafoutis, just less eggy. It includes almond extract and fresh blackberries, and the combination is fantastic. Once again, the cake is disappearing way too quickly.

Pretty much the only people I wouldn’t recommend this cookbook to would be those trying to watch their weight and/or sugar intake, unless they have awfully good willpower! Recipes include caramel cake(!), chocolate buttercream almond rounds, cinnamon and cardamom buns, fig squares, anise and hazelnut biscotti, ginger meringues, rhubarb cordial, sticky chocolate cake, and lots more. I’ll have to limit myself to making these right before we visit friends. It’s just extra incentive to share!

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Witcher 3 for the PC: Default Key Bindings

I have trouble remembering all the things I can do and how, so I went looking for a list of commands and controls for the PC version of Witcher 3. The only one I found was woefully incomplete. So, here you go. I just brought up the keybindings and scribbled stuff down, so any mistakes are my own fault and I’d love to hear what they are so I can make this more useful.

Witcher 3 — For the PC

These are in order as presented in the keybindings menu. I hope to clean this up soon to make it easier to read and scan through.

Sprint:   Left Shift
Toggle Sprint:   (unbound)
Toggle walk/run:   Left control
Jump:   Space
Lock on Target:   Z
Interact:   E
Modify Attack Type:   Left Shift
Fast Attack:   Left Mouse Button
Strong Attack:   (unbound)
Use Witcher Senses:   Right Mouse Button
Parry/Counterattack:   Right Mouse Button
Cast Sign:   Q
Toggle signs:   Mouse Scroll Wheel
Use Quick Access Item:   Middle Mouse Button (I mapped to 0 since I lack that middle button)
Dodge:   Alt
Roll:   Space
Call Horse:   X
Gallop/canter:   Left Shift
Dismount:   E
Stop Horse:   X
Surface:   Space
Dive:   C
Quick Access Menu:   Tab
Consumables Slot 1:   R
Consumables Slot 2:   F
Draw Steel Sword:   1
Draw Silver Sword:   2
Select Aard:   3
Select Yrden:   4
Select Igni:   5
Select Quen:   6
Select Axii:   7
Change Objective:   V
Character Panel:   K
Inventory:   I
Map:   M
Game Menu:   Enter
Quests Panel:   J
Meditation:   N
Alchemy:   L
Crafting:   O
Bestiary:   B
Glossary:   G
Gwent Deck:   H

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Review: “The Book of Life,” Deborah Harkness

Pros: Better than volume 2!
Cons: Diana is a complete Mary Sue
Rating: 3 out of 5

Review book provided by publisher

 

The Book of Life Is book three in Deborah Harkness’s “All Souls Trilogy”. I wasn’t very fond of book one (A Discovery of Witches) or book two (Shadow of Night). In book three, Diana and her husband Matthew arrive back in the modern day only to find that Matthew’s ‘son’ Benjamin is on the warpath. His goals apparently include killing Matthew, kidnapping Diana for childbearing purposes, and horribly torturing other people along the way. Add to that the threat of the Congregation (Matthew and Diana’s marriage is still considered to be all kinds of wrong since once’s a vampire and the other’s a witch), and the Blood Rage that haunts Matthew and his descendants, and things get kind of exciting.

 

Let’s get this out of the way first: Diana is a complete and utter Mary Sue still. She’s more powerful than everyone. She’s pretty much always right in what she does, even when it’s something stupid. With the exception of the truly evil characters, she wins everyone over to her side. Sometimes I can’t even tell how or when–a character will act violently opposed to her and her ideas, only to become protective of her at some point largely off-screen. I take notes as I read and I had this written in at some point: “Kill Baldwin already.” (Except there were extra expletives.) But then he, too, magically came to see Diana as family to be protected. We also find out at some point that Matthew is not the only member of the expansive vampire family who is in love with Diana. This is all neatly encapsulated by the following quote:

“Then we haven’t lost everything … so long as we don’t lose you.”

Or maybe,

“Your mother fixed everything once again.”

(These quotes were both spoken regarding Diana.)

Speaking of which, for the first time in this series some of the text was genuinely quotable:

“This family was more fun when we had fewer medical degrees.”

Pacing improved. There were fewer detail oddities–although they do exist (Gerbert gave Ysabeau’s phone back to her because its collection of alarms was too noisy? Seriously, someone could have switched the thing to vibrate or dumped it in a box in an attic). The story also introduces Chris, Diana’s “best friend”, and I don’t remember her having a human best friend in either of the first two books, unless I missed a note here or there. It’s really jarring to get so far through a series and then magically have a “best friend” pop up, particularly one who’s very relevant to solving the plot. You’d think she would have thought about him at least once or twice in the series so far if he’s such a good friend.

The blatant wish fulfillment fantasy via Diana makes this series feel like a set of YA novels, but some of the content clearly belongs to a darker genre. Rape and murder play a part in the plot.

The events of the story are unsurprising, largely because Diana is such a Mary Sue. We know that she won’t make major plot-altering mistakes. We know that everyone who isn’t wholly evil will end up helping her because she’s just that awesome (hah). While I won’t talk much about her children, I’ll note that there are no surprises there–think of the most obvious supernatural cross-breeding twin children plot (not nearly as unique as it sounds) and you’ll hit the nail on the head.

 

I definitely enjoyed The Book of Life more than I did books one and two (I started to care about what happened to the characters), but as you can see, Diana’s Mary Sue nature robs the story of surprises. Since each book has been better than the last, however, I have some hope that Harkness’s next story might be even better.

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Review: “Don’t Lose Her,” Jonathon King

Pros: Decent characters, plenty of tension
Cons: Odd way of unfurling a mystery
Rating: 3 out of 5

Review ebook provided free by publisher via NetGalley.
Expected publication date: June 2, 2015

 

In Jonathon King’s Don’t Lose Her (The Max Freeman Mysteries) federal judge Diane has been kidnapped–a situation made all the more dire because she’s in the last month of her pregnancy. Her husband Billy, a lawyer has a ton of markers to call in, and Max, a PI and friend, to call on. The feds, of course, want them to stay out of things, but there isn’t a chance in hell of that happening. Unfortunately there’s been no ransom demand, and there are precious few clues to be had.

 

The people who kidnapped pregnant Diane aren’t overly cruel–as long as she keeps her hood on and does what they want her to do, they leave her largely alone. However, the rule is that none of the kidnappers can speak within her hearing. There’s one particular person, Rae, who has babysitting duties. Rae is independent, annoyed by having to take care of this woman (also annoyed with Diane’s perceived ‘whininess’)–yet at the same time, she does what she needs to in order to care for Diane and her baby. Rae is one of the point of view characters, which gives a very interesting view on the bad guys and what’s happening with Diane. This contrasts nicely with Max’s efforts, conclusions, and assumptions. It gives everyone a deeper level of characterization than there would otherwise be.

The real problem–for Max and Billy and, in a lesser way, us as readers–is that there’s no hint of a motive for the kidnapping. There are no ransom demands. Diane’s jailers don’t even speak to her, so they certainly aren’t making threats. On the one hand, this draws out the mystery, which is usually a good thing. Usually mysteries get drawn out, however, by providing multiple possible motives, enemies, or outcomes. In this case we had virtually nothing. There was a tiny incident partway through that, if you’re paying attention, you’ll realize indicates who’s actually behind everything. Not because there’s any real in-plot reason to think he’s done it, but simply because plot structure demands it.

Ideally when reading a mystery you get small hints and red herrings. It builds up until you start guessing what’s going on, and once you find out, you’re hopefully left smacking your forehead and calling yourself an idiot for not seeing it sooner. In this case however, there’s nothing for you to see. There’s no sense later of having figured something cool out. We weren’t kept in mystery by delightful sleight-of-hand; we were kept in mystery by a simple lack of any knowledge. It’s much less satisfying.

Thus, the characters were interesting, the setup was neat, and I enjoyed the milieu. But the author left us hanging with no sense of progress throughout most of the book.

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Non-review: “Necrophobia,” Mark Devaney

Necrophobia, by Mark Devaney, lost me almost immediately. Normally I would have read further before declaring this a non-review, but I just couldn’t do it.

The pacing is terrible. Devaney stuffs huge paragraphs full of different actions and different focuses. He also interrupts action scenes with sudden dumps of information. The part that made it impossible for me to continue, though, was the interminable sentence fragments. If you care at all about grammar you will go insane trying to read this book. This is the shortest non-review I’ve ever written, but I’ve never seen a book deliver so much lack of proper pacing, misplaced details, and horrid grammar in such a short space before.

Posted in Reviews

Review: “Shadow of Night,” Deborah Harkness

Pros: Better than volume 1
Cons: Mary Sue; inconsistent details
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

 

Witch Diana Bishop and her husband (vampire Matthew de Clermont) have time-walked back to the 1500s in order to find a book and a teacher for Diana. Apparently while they’re there the Matthew from that time period simply vanishes until they leave again. Meanwhile, they’re hanging out with famous people, trying to out-politic the court of the Queen of England (among other major leaders in Europe), possibly having a baby (which shouldn’t even be possible), and confusing the hell out of Matthew’s friends and acquaintances.

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, Bk 2) follows on the heels of A Discovery of Witches. In some ways Shadow of Night is the better book–the text flows more smoothly, not every single character is bitchy all the time, and the pacing has improved. However, it has a few flaws of its own.

First, the time-walking. It’s really weird to have a second book in a trilogy set in not just a new locale, but a whole different genre. The first book was not a historical fiction. I have a few problems with how this was carried out. For instance, the historical Matthew conveniently vanishes with future Matthew visiting. I can see how this was the only way Harkness could have the story she wanted, but it’s such a bald-faced deus ex machina. Matthew of course knows the famous historical figures of the time, including queens and emperors, which seems awfully stupid for a creature whose very existence relies on everyone else not noticing that he isn’t aging. Matthew and Diana also seem to have picked a very unstable and dangerous time to visit; I never really figured out why they thought that was a good idea. They’re supposed to not make changes to the past, but how could they possibly not when they’re dealing with such powerful people? And yet of course they don’t end up changing too much despite everything they’re doing that the time-appropriate Matthew wouldn’t have. There’s also the inevitable historical trope of the headstrong woman vs. the overprotective man in her life.

Diana is still a Mary Sue, right down to taking in a street urchin on a whim who then becomes a treasured member of the family. There’s the unique familiar, the need for a highly unusual set of teachers, and the jealousy or adoration that everyone feels for her. (Yes, even the relevant emperor becomes besotted with Diana. Don’t tell me you’re surprised.) She’s also still ridiculously easy for people to manipulate; she does a lot of stupid stuff–but of course since she’s a Mary Sue, these things don’t come back to haunt her.

What I really want to know is how on earth Matthew-from-the-future and Diana could possibly expect historical Matthew to not notice (after modern Matthew goes back to the future) that he’s been out of commission for ages. I don’t care how much his friends are determined to shield him from that knowledge, it’s going to be really hard to avoid people, say, asking him where his wife is, given that they got to know everyone. It just doesn’t add up. Again, it’s a hand-waved deus ex machina.

I hope that the next book, The Book of Life, is better about such details.

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Review: “A Discovery of Witches,” Deborah Harkness

Pros: Some interesting world-building
Cons: Kind of a mess; unlikable characters
Rating: 2 out of 5

Diana Bishop is a history professor who studies alchemy. She’s a witch from a long line of powerful witches, but she uses her magic as little as she can possibly get away with; she’d much rather be a human. There are three types of creatures in the world: daemons, vampires, and witches. (It’s a little weird that they call themselves ‘creatures’.) Daemons are born to humans, and they supposedly specialize in creativity and intelligence. Vampires are created by vampires, and witches are born to witches. When she finds a very unusual alchemical manuscript, everyone takes an interest in her. One of those people, Matthew Clairmont, is a very old vampire. Naturally, Diana will have to grow into her powers now in order to keep herself alive while she tries to gain answers to her questions.

 

Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches is the first book in her All Souls Trilogy. It’s a bit longer than most modern urban fantasies, and I wish I could say that it makes good use of all that space. Stick with me as I try to piece my feelings for this book into a more-or-less coherent whole.

First, for the majority of the book the main characters (and nearly every side character) act pissy, judgmental, condescending, argumentative, cranky… you get the idea. It makes it difficult to like any of them whatsoever. Some characters seem to vacillate back and forth between reasonableness and having sudden, extreme bouts of anger. In the case of Matthew that’s actually supposed to be a deliberate flaw for him, but so many other characters behave similarly that it doesn’t stand apart. Also, his anger often seemed somewhat random. Tempers seemed to even out a bit toward the end of the book.

Next, some details are just… weird. Diana recognizes daemons when they look at her because it creates a sensation of being ‘nudged’ (which she describes as the feel of a kiss at one point). That’s just strange, and even more so because daemons aren’t inherently sexual creatures. There’s also the fact that even though the three types of creature generally don’t mix, they’re willing to set all that aside for… yoga class?!

Things get over-explained and re-explained frequently toward the beginning of the book. The author doesn’t seem to trust her readers to understand or remember much of anything on the first try. Then there are parts of the story that get jammed in where they don’t seem to belong. We find out a lot about a vampire named Marcus in such a way that it derails the tension and pacing of the story-in-progress. More than a third of the way into the book we finally get informed that there’s a “Congregation” of three of each type of creature that make decisions for their fellows. There isn’t much of an explanation as to what they usually do or why anyone else would follow their dictates.

Matthew is roughly 1500 years old, and (as always happens in these stories) has met a long list of famous historical figures. You’d think that wouldn’t happen so much when you’re trying to keep your head down so that no one figures out you haven’t aged. It’s hard to imagine that someone that old could possibly carry on a romantic relationship with someone as young (and often childish) as Diana. Of course vampires are kind of messed up in other ways: becoming a vampire makes you taller. I’m not kidding. (I’m assuming this is their workaround for the fact that people used to be shorter, but it’s a pretty baldfaced kludge.)

Diana is a definite Mary Sue character. Everybody either envies/hates her for her massive powers etc., or (even if they’re kind of evil and nasty) comes to appreciate and in most cases love her. Diana repeatedly violates Matthew’s privacy without any real negative reaction on his part. She insists that he tell her all his secrets, then gets mad at him any time she discovers a new one–even though most of them don’t qualify as secrets; they just fall under the idea that it’s going to take more than a couple of days to bring her up to date on 1500 years of life. She goes pawing through his secret drawer in his desk even though she supposedly loves him by now. I got so frustrated that no one called her on her self-righteous speech about secrets when she’s violating his privacy all over the place, expecting to be told 1500 years’ worth of details overnight, and failing to tell him everything about her life at the same time. Naturally, no one calls her on her behavior or gets upset over it, thus giving the impression she’s being entirely reasonable. (I feel bad for Matthew for the fact that he fell in love with someone to whom he must constantly prove himself worthy.)

My kiss demanded he tell me what the problem was.

That’s quite the detailed kiss, there. This is the sort of thing that makes me facepalm, and this is hardly the only instance of it. There are some things that bugged me that I’m leaving out because they’d spoil an (admittedly obvious) story development later on.

Toward the end of the long book I finally started to enjoy some of the material. We got to see more of Diana’s family, who own a family house that does things like add extra rooms when it realizes company is coming. That house has a better personality than anyone else in the book.

 

While reading A Discovery of Witches I kept constantly putting it down. It took me rather longer than it should have to finish the book, but it annoyed me too much to hold my interest. If it weren’t for the fact that I recently received book three to review and wanted to read the rest of the series first, I would have stopped in the middle and given up on it.

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Non-Review: “Yokai Blues: Part 1,” John LaTorre

In John LaTorre’s Yokai Blues: Part 1 paranormal creatures came out of the closet about a generation ago (standard urban fantasy timeline). Nick has friends in that community, and one of them is dead–murdered.

My kindle tells me I made it about 12% of the way into this book before I gave up. The writing style didn’t appeal to me at all. There are parts of the writing that consist of one short, choppy sentence after another, which did weird things to the pacing. Verb tense changes suddenly in some areas. The overall style consists of detail piled on top of detail; I lost track of how much of the narrative was devoted to Nick’s alcoholism alone (okay, okay, we get the picture already). There are details that don’t match up in places, and a few bits (“Nick’s eye tore open”) that convey something very different than the author intended. Ow.

While I won’t review this on Amazon or Goodreads since I didn’t finish it, here I have hopefully given you enough detail to have an idea of whether or not you might like this book more than I did.

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