deborahjross: (halidragon)
The redwoods have been getting their fair share of the rain, and I’ve been holed up with a pile of wonderful books. Some of these came from my gigantic “To Be Read” bookshelf and others fall under the category of newly-purchased series addiction indulgences.

A Plague of Angels by Sherri S. Tepper was a thrift store discovery. Someone must have donated their collection of tattered, dog-eared 1990s science fiction to swell the fare that I’ve already picked through. For me, Tepper is a sure bet and I was pretty sure I didn’t have this one. That’s one of the problems of thrift store offerings, especially since my husband’s dowry included 70 cartons of books, much of it science fiction. Despite the cover images (couple on white horse, undoubtedly fleeing something; dragons in the sky and ruined castles on the hilltops), this is not fantasy. It begins like fantasy, with an Orphan growing up in an archetypal village where everyone has a designated role: Oracle, Thief, Hero, etc. Tepper’s world is much bigger than the village, and by the time our characters arrived at the Place of Power, I’d recognized genetic engineering, an analog of AIDS, the remnants of scientific institutions (the families Mitty and Berkli), ecologists on a multi-generational mission to restore habitats, and cyborgs gone seriously postal. Great stuff, wildly inventive.

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest continues (and supposedly concludes) the adventures of Lizzie Borden, she of the axe and the forty whacks that saved the world because Chthulu, and if you haven’t read Maplecroft, I won’t give away any more. As enchanted as I was by Lizzie, I found Chapelwood a bit of a letdown. Mind you, Maplecroft was a tough act to follow, with its exuberantly creepy mix of Lovecraft and American history. Still, despite the lesser originality of the concept, Priest’s deft storytelling kept me turning the pages. I definitely would not begin with this one, however. Start with Maplecroft and if you adore it, treat yourself to Round 2.

More of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse. Dead Reckoning, to be precise. That’s the one that begins with the firebombing on Merlotte’s. I think this is #11 of 13 and I’ll be sorry to see the end of Sookie’s world. I love how she cleans house when she needs to think. But once I have read them all, I will always have the option of binge-reading the whole shebang.

Likewise, two more “Laundry Files” novels by the inimitable Charles Stross. A delicious and often hilarious cross between James Bond, computer geeks, and the Chthulu mythos. It turns out that any sufficiently advanced mathematics is not only indistinguishable from magic, it is magic. And if you spent too much time contemplating certain theorems, things with glowing, writhing tentacles start inhabiting your brain. Like other series, these books are best not begun in the middle. However, I grabbed The Rhesus Chart (“everybody knows vampires aren’t real”) and The Fuller Memorandum (you really don’t want an Eater of Souls munching through the population of England) and read them in the wrong order, also skipping the one in between. Since I’d read the first ones, I wasn’t lost in terms of characters and world-building, just events. These two were vastly amusing nonetheless and someday I’ll pull a Sookie Stackhouse and read them all back to back and in the correct order. Who knows what otherdimensional horror that act of folly will unleash. Just kidding, really.

Last but by far not least – and I cringe to admit it – I finally sat down to read Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” books (the last one of which has yet to be released). Herein is a perfect example of bouncing off a book too far into a series. I attempted number 5 or 6, somewhere in there . I couldn’t figure out who the characters were, why I should care, and what was going on. Hoo, I thought, another Jane Austen – or in this case, C. S. Forester/Patrick O’Brien – mashup. But I dutifully opened the complimentary copy of the first volume, His Majesty’s Dragon, that came to me in a goodie bag at World Fantasy Con. I read at least the first pages of freebie books. Oh, all right, the first few words. Wow, I thought as the chapters sped by, this is corking good! And they are, really. I feel like a dolt for having taken so long and for having discounted all the praise as dragonmania. Novik has a light, sure touch with both characters and action. She never beats the reader over the head with the niftiness of her High Concept, and her handling of relationships is beautifully executed. As it turned out, my older daughter had just moved in with us, bringing her collection of Temeraire’s adventures. We passed them around, my husband and I reading them for the first time, Sarah for the 3rd, I think, and then we gave Sarah the last two volumes in print for a birthday present. The entire household awaits the final volume with bated breath. As for me, I have added Novik to the list of authors I will follow across genres. I look forward to the delights as she continues to mature as an author. Fame well earned!
deborahjross: (halidragon)
Barb Caffrey of Shiny Book Reviews had glowing praise for The Seven-Petaled Shield.

THE SEVEN-PETALED SHIELD is spiritually deep in a way I rarely see in fantasy. Ms. Ross did an outstanding job in rendering a strong and quiet woman who takes comfort in books, and shows just how relevant such a heroine can be. (I could live without Zevaron, quite frankly, but I know he’s needed for the sequels.)
Bottom line? THE SEVEN-PETALED SHIELD is an exceptional epic fantasy, one that’s deep and broad in ways that I’ve rarely seen. More epic fantasy should be like this. Highly recommended!
deborahjross: (Default)
My summer began in a rather inauspicious manner with a round of bronchitis that lasted the better part of 3 weeks. Long story, the highlights of which are a history of previous episodes, the discovery that I am highly allergic to marijuana smoke, which lead to an asthma attack, which promptly turned into bronchitis, and Deborah in her inimitable fashion had not one but two relapses. Only one of which was my fault for doing too much too soon. (I am now the proud possessor of the relevant inhalers.)

Enough whinging (British friends: is that the right word?) One of the very, very few upsides of this illness was that I had to stay in bed. A lot. After the initial phase of sleeping all day, I started reaching for my pile of To Be Read books. Ah, books! How would we get through bed rest without them? Here is a sampling of the stories that helped me through the tedium:

Judith Tarr: Kingdom of the Grail. I’d picked this up at Powell’s Books, that amazing bookstore in Portland OR (see below), and then got distracted by other things. It’s historical fantasy, with the emphasis on a wonderful blending of fantastical elements. We all know the story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail, right? Tarr sets her story not in King Arthur’s time but that of Charlemagne, with one of the King’s Companions, Roland, as the hero. Add much Grail-centered magical subterfuge, an ancient evil bent on acquiring the Grail, and a sorceress who transcends time and culture. Oh, and a love story. Of course. Oh, and some very nifty horses.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Shadow of the Wind. This gem was on my husband’s TBR shelf, and I almost didn’t pick it up because of the mainstream-looking cover. Imagine my delight when the story opens with a visit to “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,” where you get to choose one book, just one book from the thousands of musty volumes, that you promise to keep alive, to make sure it never disappears. For the narrator, that book is The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax, and from the very first paragraph, his life is never the same. Especially when a mysterious figure appears, bent on destroying every copy of every book Carax wrote, all of which were dismal publishing failures so they’re rare collector’s prizes anyway, not to mention addictive. After a while, the story devolves into part mystery, part suspense thriller, but that opening, which spoke so eloquently about the magical power of books, had me hooked. It’s not exactly fantasy/science fiction, but it’s definitely one for us book-loving fanatics.Read more... )
deborahjross: (Default)
If your books have ever received a one-star, very much less-than-enthusiastic review, you are in excellent company. John Scalzi presents a sampling of thumbs-down reviews of books that went on to win the Hugo Award (and are wonderful books, imho).

Balm for the writer's bruised ego...

Every Award-Winning Book Sucks (For Someone) | Whatever
deborahjross: (Shield #1)
Collaborators One of the pleasures of an author's career is learning that a story has transcended genre and reached out to new readers.

From a review by a non-sf reader: Even if you’re not a sci-fi buff, this epic novel is a must read. Deborah Wheeler’s pacing is pitch-perfect. The rendering of the planet is magical. And the way the story unfolds will captivate you. The political drama is as real anything that would happen here on Earth. Not only will you want to keep reading to find out what happens, but you’ll be pulled along by the emotional arc of Collaborators. It’s been several weeks since I finished the book, and I keep thinking about it, remembering an exquisite moment of compassion or a gesture of kindness in the middle of the violence and the chaos. There’s a lot here and it will give you plenty to think about. But be warned: clear your calendar! Once you start reading, you won’t be able to put it down.

Read the whole review here: COLLABORATORS by Deborah Wheeler - Nancy Wood Books

Order the book:
Trade Paperback
deborahjross: (Default)

The What We’re Reading Wednesday meme is making the rounds. True to form, I offer up some reflections on what I have been and am reading Not On A Wednesday.

I’ve been slowly working my way through two series: Bernard Cornwell’s “Richard Sharpe” books and the Sookie Stackhouse “Southern Vampire” novels of Charlaine Harris. Each of these is a story in itself, about which more is forthcoming below. I say “slowly” because I want to make them last, so I ration them out a chapter here, a book there, with breaks for other reading.

The Cornwell is undoubtedly Ioan Gruffud’s fault. When my younger daughter still lived at home, we watched the A & E “Horatio Hornblower” series together (a precursor to her inflicting Dr. Who upon her unsuspecting mother, who then retaliated by knitting her The Scarf, but that’s another tale entirely). Years later, my husband – who normally does not care for movies in general and anything with fighting in particular – expressed willingness to indulge me with Friday night videos. We noodle around with every dramatization of the life of Queen Elizabeth I we could find and then advanced to Horatio Hornblower, both the series with Gruffudd and the movie with Gregory Peck. From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the infantry’s role in the Napoleonic Wars. Sean Bean’s “Richard Sharpe” to the rescue. Having watched the series, I of course grabbed for the books. They are interesting in many ways. For one thing, they aren’t written in order. The series begins in the early middlish part, when Sharpe has already saved the life of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) and become an officer “up through the ranks,” an elevation much frowned upon by both his fellow officers and the common soldiers he is to command. Then, after quite a number of adventures, Cornwell goes back to the beginning, as it were, fills in a lot of background, so you can read them in the order in which they were written or in chronological order. For another, each book centers on one battle. One battle! And has not a speck of flab anywhere.
After several books, the principles of warfare of the time – such as the relative advantages and weaknesses of infantry, cavalry, artillery – become part of the dramatic landscape. It was certainly nice to imagine a much younger Sean Bean when I read about Richard Sharpe, but I find I like the written character better.

That’s true as well for the Sookie Stackhouse books. I’d read a few before I caught the television series on DVD and found the casting choices interesting, not to mention the way bits of different books were conflated and put in a different order. In the books, Sookie has such a strong, distinctive voice that even her describing getting dressed is entertaining. I was a fan of Harris’s “Lily Bard/Shakespeare” and “Aurora Teagarden” mysteries and love the way she hooks me with the surface of the story while weaving in deeper, darker stuff.

deborahjross: (Default)
Hooray! My review of Marissa Meyer's CINDER is up - on the LA TIMES OF BOOKS!!!!!
deborahjross: (Jaydium)
Are the reader reviews on better or worse than those penned by professional (and often academic and "litrary") reviewers? Or are they a completely different ball of wax?

In an article, "Amazon Killed The Book Reviewer Star," Gregory Ferenstein writes:

“The democratization of reviewing is synonymous with the decay of reviewing,” lamented Professor of English Morris Dickstein, “The professional reviewer, who has a literary identity, who had to meet some editor’s exacting standard, has effectively been replaced by the Amazon reviewer, the paying customer, at times ingenious, assiduous, and highly motivated, more often banal, obtuse, and blankly opinionated.”

Others have implied that Amazon contains far worse than uncritical literary buffoons; Cornell professor Trevor Pinch, discovered systemic corruption within the ranks of top 1,000 Amazon reviewers, many of whom are given perks for good reviews or abstaining from bad ones.

But, if Amazon really is a literary cesspool, why did Dobrescu and his colleagues find that consumer reviews were nearly identical, on average, to professional critics, (under conditions when professionals would not be biased)? The likely explanation is what social scientists call the “wisdom of crowds.” A randomly selected consumer reviewer is no match for a professional reviewer, but the average opinion of all laymen is less biased than an expert.

This fact was famously discovered by Sir Francis Galton, who found that crowds of people were astonishingly good at guessing the weight of a cow, despite individual guesses being all over the map. Stupid answers are tossed around the actual right answer in equal proportion, marking the truth like treasure on a map surrounded by circular dots.

Regardless of the quality or positivity/negativity of Amazon reader reviews, conventional wisdom is that they affect sales because once a book has received a certain number, it gets into Amazon's suggestion algorithms ("Readers who liked this book, liked that other book...")

So if you haven't posted a review of your favorite author's book (how about mine - Jaydium and Northlight?) this is a great time to do so!
deborahjross: (Default)
Every once in a while, in between more seriously-weird reading, I indulge in a few "airport" books. "Airport" books are fat, easy reads, fast and largely undemanding, absorbing enough to be an entertaining way to pass the time (at airports, hence the name, and other places). They're great for lounging on the beach as well, or any other place you're apt to be half asleep and get sand kicked between the pages. My current pick comes to me via the fundraiser at our local branch library:

Last Scene Alive by Charlaine Harris. I'd enjoyed "Sookie Stackhouse" and so decided to take a peek at "Aurora Teagarden." Having worked in libraries, the idea of a librarian heroine appealed to me. Harris writes in an easy, friendly style with a nice combination of coziness and emotional resonance as our heroine copes with her job, her widowhood, her unwanted celebrity, not to mention an old flame and a new mystery. Not a vampire in sight, but enjoyable.

Two Temperance Brennan novels from Kathy Reichs: Devil Bones and Break No Bones. Being the pathology freak I am, I picked up the first novel in this series not long after it came out. At that time, Reichs was a fresh new voice, rough-edged and definitely not enamored of pulling her punches. I loved the mirroring of outward chaos (murder, danger, mangled body parts) and inner chaos (the heroine's struggle with alcoholism and relationships). I loved that things happened that changed her life, the sense of time being linear: trauma can be healed but never erased.

Now, many books later, I returned to the series to find much of the rawness and edginess smoothed away, as if by too many seasons of wind and rain. The books are still interesting, both in terms of the nifty tidbits of forensic anthropology and the setting/issues -- one begins at an archaeological dig and the other involves a community hysteria about Satanism. I feel comfortable with the balance of expertise and compassion that Reichs brings to her stories. But the agony has been blunted, turning tales once so dark I dared not read them at bedtime into pleasant beach-side reading. Reading two of them together also brought out a similarity of plot that I might not have otherwise noticed. Predictability is not a bad thing in a book destined for casual pleasure reading. There's still enough variation to hold my interest, the writing flows, and if I'm in the mood for hanging out with Tempe and her bones, these fit the bill very nicely.
deborahjross: (Default)
Via Charlie Stross, a collection of one-star reviews of great books.

My favorite comes from Dr Seamus Jones, PhD, who reviewed The Lord of the Rings:

Tolkien had WAY too much time on his hands. Just think about it - spending all that time creating imaginary worlds, peoples, languages and events? With a huge appendix explaining it all? It's insane! Talk about wasting his time! Tolkien would have used his time much better if he had used it to cut the grass for an elderly lady, work as a volunteer in a soup kitchen, or collect money for the blind. Anyone who has the time to make so much time in his imaginary world, let alone write a stack of books about it clearly has WAY too much time on his hands.
deborahjross: (halidragon)
My review of Edward Kritzler's Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a generation of swashbuckling Jews carved out an empire in the New World in their quest for treasure, religious freedom–and revenge is up on Book View Cafe blog.

This stuff is so wild and amazing, I could not have made it up.


deborahjross: (Default)
Deborah J. Ross

May 2017

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