Uncategorized: 3.5 stars adventure ginnie dare: crimson sands J.A. Beard science fiction scott roche YA young adult
by J.A. Beard
Centuries in the future, intelligent teenager Virginia “Ginnie” Dare works as a communication specialist on her father’s freighter. When a routine supply mission leads to the discovery of a entire missing colony population, Ginnie is thrust into adventure.
With the main character’s name and the basic scenario echoing one of the most famous disappearances in early American history, the young adult science-fiction tale Ginnie Dare: Crimson Sands opens with engaging natural tension sustained both the mystery of the disappearance of the colonist and the true nature of the inscrutable native population. The subsequent plot unfolds at a comfortable pace, though the beginning was a bit slow. Once things get going, the general tension is maintained, for the most part, well throughout both in tense more-action oriented segments and those parts of the story that focus more on simply attempting to answer the questions that naturally present themselves when hundreds of people disappear into the unknown.
That being said, the tension is occasionally undermined by a slight tendency, more pronounced in the first half of the story, toward spending too much time explaining setting details. If these elements were more organically integrated into the native, the same information would have probably seemed less intrusive and damaged
Character development over the story is generally competent, though the first half of the book suffers from a tendency to be too concerned with showing too many different viewpoints. In some ways this slightly deflates the drama as it reduces some of the points of dramatic uncertainty and, therefore, the accompanying tension.
Also, the book is at its best when it focuses on the titular heroine. In the first half, in particular, a minor lack of character focus slightly undermines engagement, as the plot seems to be granted more importance in the characters. Indeed, given that Ginnie is by far the most interesting of the characters and, ostensibly, the protagonist, the time spent on some of the other view points was a bit disappointing. By the second half, though, this clears up and the talented and likable Ginnie begins to do her own part in solving the mystery.
The general setting, though not ground-breaking for science-fiction stories of this type, has an interesting non-humanoid alien race. More importantly, they presented with a sufficiently alien psychology that some good tension is wrung out of trying to understand their motivations and potential actions.
Ultimately though, Ginnie Dare opens as a mystery and, as such, the exploration and resolution of that mystery are going to help determine people’s enjoyment of the book. In that regard, the plot was satisfying enough. This book presents a self-contained complete arc, a number of interesting potential sequel hooks are raised.
Overall, Ginnie Dare: Crimson Sands is a fun YA science-fiction mystery featuring a likable protagonist.
Uncategorized: book review children's fiction halloween J.A. Beard Katherine Holmes The House of Windward Leaves
by J.A. Beard
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Halloween may trace its origins to ancient Celtic traditions but for most children, it’s nothing more than a fun holiday to dress up, toy with make-believe, and score a lot of candy. A day when a young child can travel around and say with sincerity, “I’m a robot!”
That spirit of playful assumption of identity is explored in a gentle manner in The House in Windward Leaves by Katherine Holmes. In a world where even children’s entertainment is often defined by a thorough and dour cynicism, it’s nice to see books that aspire to joyous fun.
In this children’s book, a group of children spend a magical Halloween where they merely aren’t pretending to be their costumes but instead become their costumes when they are transported to a magical star. While the costumes as an identity concept itself isn’t unique, it’s still handled in an adventurous way that kids will enjoy.
The emphasis in this story is just wholesome exploration of temporary identities to provide various fun adventures for the children to enjoy. Despite this being a Halloween story, it’s focused far away from the darker aspects of the holiday. There’s no true antagonist. Most of the dramatic tension, as it were, stems more from various adventures they have on the star that take advantage of the the traits of their new identity. The large number of characters helps provide a bit of something for every child to enjoy. There’s bound to be at least one child and costume they particularly enjoy.
The writing is clean and brisk without being too simplistic. The chapter divisions also lend themselves well to installment reading.
The House of Windward Leaves is a fine read for younger readers.
Uncategorized: book review ebook historical fiction J.A. Beard mississippians native americans the cahokian zoe Saadia
by J.A. Beard
In the 13th century, the massive Great Mound of Cahokia in the Mississippi Valley supported a huge city and the accompanying civilization. In the following centuries, this complex civilization would collapse. The Cahokian follows the unexpected life course of a warlord, Acoto, of this expansionist culture. The author examines cross-cultural familiarity in her exploration of the common human traits of ambition, attraction, and adaptation, but also provides something fresh in that the story spotlights a culture that has received little coverage in fiction.
At the heart of the story is the aforementioned Acoto. A proud, ambitious man, he finds himself embroiled in political struggle that thrusts him far away from his home. The author uses him as the lens to explore both the Cahokian/Mississipian culture and the Native cultures of the Ohio River Valley. Acoto is well-developed, and the author does a fine job of presenting his motivations, justifying his actions, and making him sympathetic despite his violent occuptation. This is a particular feat as though there are various struggles presented in the course of the novel, his various foes, depending on circumstance, are far from evil, nor their actions not understandable. The Cahokian also does a good job of presenting two very different Native cultures of North America, allowing the reader to understand their mindsets, and also showing how ambition is a disease of all civilizations. Good secondary character development helps in presenting both the sympathetic and not so sympathetic people of both cultures.
I’m far more familiar with the Native groups of the west coast in recent centuries than the cultures of this time and region, so I can’t speak to the total historical accuracy of everything in The Cahokian, but the fine level of detail certainly brought a strong verisimilitude to my reading experience. The novel seems well-researched. There are a few portions where, to my knowledge, the author has to fill in details, as our understanding of the Cahokian/Mississipian culture isn’t as extensive as it perhaps should be, but none of it rings false, and it all fits in well with the more directly grounded elements.
While this extensive, at times educational, level of detail does a good job of taking the reader into the time and mindset of these ancient peoples, it also contributes to some of the weaknesses of the novel. There’s a flagging tension in the second act as the book focuses more on cultural exploration. Depending on your tastes, this may not bother you, but it made portions of the second act feel slow to me. Even though the detailed discussion of the cultural differences was justified by the circumstances presented in the book, there were just a bit too many scenes where Acoto and others sit there and discuss the differences in their respective cultures. Thus, at times, it came off as more pedagogical than engaging. While such scenes were interesting from an educational standpoint, they damaged the pacing of the novel.
Similarly, there is such a thing as too much attention to detail, particularly linguistic detail when writing a story in a language other than the one used by the characters in the story. As someone who spent a number of years involved in linguistics and translation, I understand the urge of linguistic accuracy, but fiction is a different sort of beast. This sort of problem was a minor issue when it came to the rendering of certain Native names and places. There is a skill to rendering names from foreign languages in a story meant for general consumption. A reader otherwise unfamiliar with the language should be able to at least approximate all the sounds use. Several words were rendered partially with non-alphabetic symbols whose meaning was never defined or made clear. The overall result is that this fidelity to phonetic accuracy ended up being distracting more than enlightening.
Acoto, as a warrior and a warlord, is involved in more than his fair share of battles. One might question the relative tactical disparity sometimes displayed by others in comparison to Acoto, but all the battle scenes had a nice tension about them and successfully communicated both the excitement and fear of battle without being overwhelming or fixating on violence for the sake of violence.
Overall, anyone interesting in a story about a man learning more about himself as he bridges two ancient Native North American cultures would be served well by picking up The Cahokian.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Uncategorized: children's cross-over flidderbugs J.A. Beard Jonathan Gould political satire
by J.A. Beard
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Jonathan Gould’s novella Flidderbugs presents us with two tribes of insets who co-exist on the same tree, but on different portions. Unlike the barbarian bugs or the brutal colony/hive-insect monarchies of our world, these flidderbugs are enlightened. Even if they have some disparities between the two groups, they have a council and democratically elected leaders. They have important traditions. I mean, what more do you need to have a perfect society, right?
My sarcasm matches the amusing subversive tone running through Flidderbugs. On the surface, this is simple tale, about a bug who challenges the status quo and in the process learns some important truths about his world. Really, though, this is an indictment of group think, self-inflicted ignorance, and the almost delusional arrogance that often accompanies the democratic process and attendant cultural institutions. As someone currently involved in academia, I found myself chortling at the story’s skewering of ivory tower arrogance.
Depending on how deeply one wants to read into certain things, they may or may not feel comfortable with some aspects of the allegory, but I’d argue that all good satire, at some level, should make someone uncomfortable. The overall tone, despite the bug’s desperation, doesn’t come as hostile despite the important themes being explored.
To be clear, this is not some insect call for an anarchist revolt, but rather a challenge to the cynical corrupt nature of politics and its influence on society as delivered in an easily digestible tale enjoyable for all ages. Children will find the whimsical setting entertaining and, hopefully, learn a bit about critical thinking in the process of reading the tale. Adults, I think, can enjoy the satire for what is. Despite all the distrust on display toward political institutions and ideology throughout the novella, the resolution is rather idealistic (or maybe I’m just rather cynical).
The writing itself is breezy and entertaining. As a novella, the story’s a quick read. It’s also well-paced. There are more than a few small misadventures as the protagobugs delve into the shadowy cracks of their world.
There’s no serious attempt to detail every aspect of the society, but there are enough elements introduced that you can find yourself believing in this unstable little insect republic. The various flidderbugs come to life with distinct personalities.
If you’re looking for a quick, fun political satire featuring anthropomorphic animals that doesn’t leave you utterly depressed (i.e., isn’t Orwell), check out Flidderbugs.
Rating: 4 stars
Uncategorized: a kiss before you leave me book reviews J.A. Beard james hulbert literary
by J.A. Beard
The question of identity is one that cannot be answered in isolation. As a social creature, the way we define ourselves is often heavily influenced by the way we view others and the reverse. This tangled web of relationships and identity forms the heart of James Hulbert’s literary character study, A Kiss Before You Leave Me.
The novel follows the flow of interactions between translator Miranda Kinkaid, her ex-husband stock-broker Vince, and her new beau, a lawyer. Miranda is a recovering alcoholic still emotionally and even financially reliant on her dependable ex-husband. When a new man is brought into her life by circumstance, she is soon drawn toward a deep emotional intimacy that she’s been lacking, all the while inspiring the artistic fire in her new boyfriend. Emotional betrayal, artistic obsession and the wounds of the past all combine together into a plot that may be more subtle in its tension yet still engaging.
Characterization is the true strength of this novel. Although Miranda gets the most focus, every character introduced is actualized with a depth that lends more weight to their interactions. Many of these characters may not necessarily be likable depending on the reader’s tastes, but they are all very intriguing nonetheless. Psychological states and changes play a key role in the progression of events, and they are all handled in a manner that is both dramatic and interesting yet avoids any hint of implausibility. The character work is generally strengthened by the use of multiple points-of-view throughout the novel, though there were a few occasions where it felt like certain information was held back that should have been accessible given some of the POVs being followed. I will note that I did find the occasional and uneven use of a frame narrator not only unnecessary but also somewhat distracting. The issue didn’t arise enough to seriously impact my enjoyment of the story.
On occasion, there was a slight tendency toward summary that did find less interesting, mostly in the middle acts of the story. Those segments aside, the plot itself is generally paced well and moves along with enough emotional climaxes to have kept my interest. For a mostly psychological character study, there were a surprising number of interesting twists all the way through the end.
Bourgeois ennui as a thematic thread runs throughout the novel. Even though the ennui, in itself, didn’t resonate with me, the expert characterization and the more general exploration of relationships and social expectation were more than satisfying. In particular, I found the examination of how various positive social connections can so easily be turned into damaging ones one of the most interesting aspects of this story.
Overall, I found A Kiss Before You Leave Me an intriguing exploration of the hearts and minds of several realistically depicted emotionally-damaged characters.
Rating: 4 stars
Uncategorized: Bah Christmas contemporary romance Heather Horrocks Humbug! Sweet Romance
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Okay, I admit it. I have a bit of a thing for Christmas stories. Sweet heart-warming stories with blustery outdoors scenes just make me want to snuggle up with a book and some hot tea. Bah, Humbug! by Heather Horrocks is exactly that kind of novella. With a mutilated snowman, holiday cheer and a troubled past, this book had holiday spirit written all over it.
Lexi is a mother of two doing it all on her own. Although she may have had hard times in the past, she’s now the successful Martha Stewartesque-host of a TV show in her new home of Salt Lake City. Kyle is a successful children’s author who not only happens to be Lexi’s children’s favorite author, but also the somewhat Grinchy next-door neighbor. From start to finish, I was filled with the warmth of the characters and the over-all Christmas spirit.
This story had a sweet charm that caught me at page one. The author hooks the reader with some very funny situations and then reels them in with a very sad backstory. This depth of character made the setting come alive. The story provided exactly what we expect from a holiday story like this. The evolution in the character Kyle is what really sets the tone and makes this whole thing work.
The only part of this story I wasn’t fond of was the ending. Although I feel there were some major self-revelations, the last part just didn’t seem plausible. I think it might have been better to just hint at the future and leave the rest to the imagination. Sometimes what isn’t said is just as important as what is said.
Overall though, the writing was great. The description was just enough without over doing it and the story arc very nice. I also liked that this was a “sweet” story. No steam, just a lovely romance that anyone could enjoy.
I expect this is going to be on every romance lover’s reading list this Christmas.
My indie, my tea and me
Uncategorized: book reviews Jill Myles Romance Survivor Wicked Games
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A fun, sexy book about a Survivor-like game show? I know, it didn’t make sense when I picked it up at first either, but as soon as I started I just couldn’t put it down. Maybe it was the great descriptions of the setting or the hunky leading man, but this story was just fun all around.
The story, Wicked Games by Jill Myles, centers on the aspiring author, full-time journalist and all around smart-ass Abby Lewis. She is coerced into joining the survival game as an inside mole. Only once she gets in, she’s paired with rock-hard Dean who has a distinct charm that drives her crazy. With Abby’s spitfire ways and Dean’s unwavering determination, the two were bound to have sparks fly.
My initial attraction to the book had mainly to do with its lack of cost. The cover is really nothing special for this genre, but at least it was well-pieced together.
Okay, so I’ll be honest, this isn’t the kind of book I thought I would like, but then I’m not a NASCAR fan, and I’ve been known to find one or two of those type of books sweet as well. I think it might be Abby’s attitude that really sells this central plot with the game show. She’s not thrilled go into the game, and it is something that really resonated with me. As the story flowed on, it was obvious the author knew where they were going and how they were going to get there. I was given a clear path, and it was refreshing to see they hadn’t deviated from this path as some authors do with forced problems. Sometimes less is more. And sometimes more is less daunting.
As I’ve said, Abby is a great character and I felt fully connected to her. Despite the rough start, Dean is endearing to the reader almost from the very start. He’s charming, funny and knows just how to best piss off Abby. He’s also got this great boy-next-door quality. Other characters are handled well. Despite it being a game, the duo are able to make friends and that helps to break up the tension or heat of the story. This enhances the overall intensity of those elements.
Perhaps the thing that really made this story sing was the nice ending. Everything was neatly tied up in a little bow, and I was left feeling true contentment.
Rating: 4 Stars
I may have been lucky enough to get this for free, but it’s a gem regardless of that. Solid plot, likeable characters and sex appeal to go around. All I needed to really enjoy this more was a piña colada with a little paper umbrella.
My indie, my tea and me
Uncategorized: bad boy college fighting Jamie McGuire New Adult poker Romance
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A story with vivid characters and interesting twists, Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire offers the reader a whole load of hot loving and tender moments. These things are the saving grace of a story filled with over-the-top backstories, numerous proofreading errors and a plot that keeps recycling the same issues without ever really solving them until the abrupt ending, which is really due to acceptance.
Abby is a college girl trying to move on from her troubled past. Travis is a bad boy with fists of steel, a penchant for fights and the ability to get just about any girl. The two clash from day one, but as the friendship builds, so does their understanding and devotion.
Beautiful Disaster has a great looking cover. I’m not really certain what it has to do with the book, but it definitely was eye-catching and appealing to “New Adult” fiction lovers. The overall picture is a little hard to make out, but the image on the tongue appears to be the Greek gods. This may be in reference to the muscle-bound body of Travis, the leading male and a fighter.
Once I started the story, I found myself feeling emotionally attached to the characters. Abby is straight-laced with a bit of piss-off attitude and Travis is a handsome but carefree guy. Deeper into the story I did find Travis’s overbearing and possessiveness a tad overwhelming but continued on. Don’t get me wrong, I love a strong male character but Travis often comes off more like a stalker thug than distressed lover. It is a very thin line to walk.
When I was about half way through the story, I started to feel that things were going to take a bad turn. The story line started to repeat some of the same elements already seen but with only minor changes. I kept thinking, “Just learn from your damn mistakes!” Nothing seemed to sink in, but my love of the characters spurred me to finish reading.
The ending was the final straw for me. I’m all for clichéd finals in romance as, let’s face it, that’s what romance is all about, but in this instance the ending is just tacky and the actual denouement goes on too long.
My other beef with this story is the amount of proofreading errors. I realize as an editor this is something that tends to stand out to me, but when I’m reading, the Proofreading Nazi takes a rest. This book had more than I found acceptable, especially for the price. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect there won’t be enough to distract me from the story.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Overall, I did like the book. The characters are great and the plot elements interesting. Some parts are just overdone and others unpolished. In the end, these flaws detract from the story. Would I recommend it? Sure, I would. The romance was epic. I just think the price might be a little inflated for what you get.
My indie, my tea and me.
Uncategorized: Paranormal Romance Shattered Sophia Sharp Twilight Vampires YA
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Not just another Twilight knock off, Shattered by Sophia Sharp offers some great world building and unusual ideas about the abilities of vampires. Unfortunately, the author has a tendency to tell us about rather than show certain scenes, and that is the downfall of this book.
Laura is a fairly normal teen in the town of Vancouver, Washington. She does well at school, is pretty and has a secret crush she is dying to confess. When a new student, Logan, arrives her life is turned upside down. She is pulled into a world of wonder, mystery and serious danger as she becomes closer to the unusual new student.
My initial attraction to the book was the fantastic cover. It’s always amazing what a good cover can do to draw in readers. I would imagine that among teens, often considered very visual people, this cover would garner a look or two.
At first glance I was slightly concerned with the similarities between Shattered and Twilight, especially when the author herself claims to not be a rip-off but instead says her work is something readers who might have liked Twilight might also enjoy. In general, I would agree with that assessment. I would actually say that the characters are more likeable and the world a little better thought out. As the book progressed, it became clear that some editing was in order. I would find myself irritated at the telling taking place. I’m not a person that needs to know every detail of the story, but when you are mentioning communications that have taken place multiple times with various people, it’s a good idea to let the reader in on that. The end was the worst example of this. There is a really epic scene at the end that is a convergence of various plot elements and then BAM, the rest of the story is told to us rather than shown. It’s a good thing this was the last part of the story, or I might have ended it sooner.
In all, I was impressed with the story. There were some really great elements with lots of potential. It was almost painful to see the errors in this story because it was such a good book. That being said, the writing was great. There were nice descriptions that did not overwhelm and a closeness to the characters that is often missing in YA.
Rating: 3 Stars
It is worth the read, but I can’t in good conscience give a book with an ending like that much more than 3.
My indie, my tea and me