Book Review – Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Boneshaker

Cherie Priest

2009

Trade Paperback

 

Oh.  So *that’s* what all the hype was about. 

I’ve heard about Boneshaker for quite a while now, and it’s always been somewhere over there on my reading list.  From what I heard, I knew it as one of the better known books in the Steampunk movement, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. And now that the trend is to slap a few gears on something and decide that it counts, I decided that I’d wait until I was in the mood for that, or just gave in and read the darn thing already.  What I ended up doing was a little bit of both.

Anyway, I picked the book up from the library, and didn’t really know anything about it other than it was Steampunk.   When I started reading, I realized that merely calling it that doesn’t do it justice, because there’s just so much involved with the story, and Priest does an incredible job of putting us right in the middle of it.

The story switches back and forth between two main characters – Briar and Zeke.  Briar is the daughter of the infamous Maynard Wilkes and the widow of the criminal Levi Blue.  Blue was responsible for the blight that tore Seattle apart.  Briar spent her life trying to get away from the stigma of the men in her past while saving the last person in her life that mattered worth a damn, her son.

Except for one problem.  While the Blight has been running off unchecked for sixteen years, merely walled off and ignored by the untouched parts of the city, Ezekiel – Zeke – has been growing up without a history and has now run off unchecked right under the wall and into the mess.  Totally unschooled and thus unprepared for whatever he would find on the other side.

You can’t fault the boy, really.  His father single-handedly destroyed half the city, and his grandfather was the legend of a jailbreak.  All he wanted to do was clear his father’s name and understand his past.  He thought he’d be gone for ten hours – that’s how long his gas mask would last.  He was wrong.

Actually, he was gone for so long that his momma had to come save him.  There are some interesting characters they meet along the way, too.  Minnericht (is he or isn’t he Levi Blue?), Lucy, the half-armed (and I’m not talking weaponry) barkeep, Chinamen, airboat captains and crew, the rotters…

But in the end, this is a story about love and perseverance.

For those of you who are shaking your heads, saying you won’t read Steampunk, no matter what I say, really, you need to.  Because this is the type of story where you can strip away a few details and your story works in any world.  You could easily change the airships and some of the visuals and set this story in a modern world.  This is why I like it – the essence of any good genre piece is that it stands away from the genre as well.

No wonder this is one of the go-to Steampunk pieces.  No wonder it’s said to be the best book Priest has ever written.  No wonder I’m giving it the full five page rating.

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Book Review–The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher

Title: The Shell Seekers

Author: Rosamund Pilcher

Format: Electronic

Written: 1984

Published: 2013 [Date of Kindle release]

 

This is a classic book; it invariably shows up on Top 100 lists and if you mention it to a woman who is older than 35 you’ll likely get a breathlessly enthusiastic recommendation.   “Oh! The Shell Seekers! That’s one of my favourites!”

When it was released for Kindle earlier this month I decided I’d download it and give it a re-read.   I’d read it in the distant past and didn’t remember much about it at all.  I DID know that I’d given it one star on GoodReads but had no written review.  I decided to see what I had so disliked previously and if I still disliked it now.

A Rosamund Pilcher book is famously hard to describe simply because nothing very earth shattering ever happens.  You watch people go about their lives in a plodding manner.   Cozy cottages and delicious meals are described in detail and tiny conversations happen throughout.   A true Rosamund Pilcher book is somewhat like being dropped wholly clothed but invisible into the everyday lives of a group of British people.

The folk at the center of this story are the family and friends of Penelope Keeling, a woman who is just released from the hospital after suffering a heart attack when the book opens.    Penelope is the daughter of noted painter Lawrence Stern and has inherited a few works of his that have gone up in value considerably.   The book takes its title from his last and most personal painting, The Shell Seekers.

The story itself covers the whole of Penelope’s life in a time-shifting narrative structure that illuminates her life for the reader.   It focuses primarily on the idyll of Britain between the two world wars, the changing life in Britain during the late 1970s/early 1980s and the evolution of life in Britain during World War II.   Pilcher’s style of story-telling makes these eras and the people in them come alive.

My difficulty as a reviewer is in giving the book a particular score.   If I evaluate the story purely on its technical merits there is little doubt that I’d have to give it at least a 4.5.   I found myself unable to put the book down, always wanting to know what happens next to Penelope and her family.   The fact is, however, that Penelope and her family are some of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever met in a work of fiction, and that includes a body of reading which covers a lot of books with serial killers, spies, dark wizards and tyrants.   As loathsome as Voldemort, Ed Gein and Hitler are they really have nothing on the general disgustingness of Penelope and her children.    All of them are materialistic to a fault, valuing things either for their monetary worth or their bohemian cache.  Penelope dislikes her children and fobs her eldest daughter off on a housemate to raise yet characterises that same daughter as selfish and materialistic.

The bulk of the book’s driving action is of this family as it schemes and plots to get the valuable artworks sold and divvy up the money.   So it’s a technically brilliant story focusing on an absolutely horrible group of people.

How does one rate a book like that?    In the past I’d rated it one star.  On reflection I think that I have to herein give this novel a rating of 4.   It’s a trick, I think, for an author to be able to tell a story so compelling that I read it in spite of the characters involved.   It’s an even greater trick for an author to have used a time-shifting narrative to get her reader to understand how her characters evolved into the people they became.  The fact that I ended the book with tears in my eyes speaks to Pilcher’s fantastic skill as an author.   Still and all, I can’t give this one a 5 just because those hateful people really detract.

4 bookworms

Book Review – Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia

Title: Beautiful Creatures

Author: Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia

Format: Paperback

Written: 2009

Published: 2012

 

After seeing the previews in the movie theater I grew curious about the book.  It took forever to get the book from the library as it seems that several people had the same idea as me to read it because it was coming out as a movie.  My curiosity started with reading an online sample of the book and I was quickly surprised by it.  In the theaters I had been convinced that the book was told from the perspective of the girl, considering that it how stories of this nature seem to be generally told, yet when I opened the book I was surprised to see it being told from the perspective of the boy.  Seeing this I was excited and all the more intrigued to hear a love story from the male perspective, and it started out quite good giving me a very clear picture of the town and life our main character Ethan Wate was living.  I was quickly hooked and turning the next page to read just a little bit more.

 

Sadly that breath of fresh air that excited me turned sour as I was meat with tedious repetition about the town of Gatlin and the life that Ethan lives there.  I don’t know how many times and ways I was reminded that the town of Gatlin was a southern town, very proud of its history and anyone not born of the two was an outsider shunned by all particularly if you are Lena Duchannes the nice of the town’s  ‘Boo Radley’.  This was what majority of the book consisted of, if that point was left alone and made minimally the book would not have been the door stop that it was!  For those who would like to make comparisons, if you are familiar with the thickness of the fifth Harry Potter book, Beautiful Creatures was thicker.  I don’t mind playing with the concept of the town being against Lena, making the romance between Ethan and her difficult but when I have to be reminded of why she’s not accepted and yet Ethan is despite his ‘poor choices’ it gets annoying.  Many of my friends had to unfortunately deal with me complaining about the book being the book that never ends.

 

What also made this book difficult for me was not only the fact of repetition but the inconsistency with chapter.  I know as a writer and an avid reader, some chapters are going to be longer than others but typically in my experience there is some consistency on chapter lengths.  In this book I could read a chapter that is only three pages long and a breeze to get through and the next chapter would be ten pages long.  It jumped and fluctuated in the extreme when it came to chapter lengths.  My other issue with the book is that each chapter wasn’t just named but also dated.  Generally speaking dating a chapter is not a big deal to me, but I have an issue when three quarters of the book is done where each individual day gets its own chapter but at the end a chapter can be labeled something like 12.15 and include the events of the 15th the 24th, 25th and lead me into the New Year.  I also have issues that the authors would make any busy day into one forever long chapter but had no problem making the biggest day of the book be three separate chapters.  I am grateful that they didn’t make the 20 plus pages into one chapter, but I felt if you can break that day up why you couldn’t break the other days up as well.

Outside of the idiosyncrasies the story itself was fair, I wasn’t in love with it and finding it to be as good as the general plot could have made or even the movie previews make it, but it was an okay story to say the least even if it was in some ways fairly predictable.  As a last note, the book Beautiful Creatures is the first in the series and thus in some small way sets up for the next book which leave you feeling that pretty much you’ve got the same story all over again only it is the next year.  Having no intention of reading any more of the books in the series I used Google to find out the rest of the story and it is in some ways rather predictable and not that intriguing playing on various classic tropes which makes me just sigh and almost roll my eyes.  Over all I would give this book a 2 page rating and say don’t waste your time.  I’ve not seen the movie but it looks to be better than the book was so as rare as it is for me to say it, go see the movie instead of reading the book and I’m sure you’ll be more entertained than I was in reading it.

Writer Wednesday – William Dickerson

WilliamDickersonBanner

 

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I’m William Dickerson and I was born in Yonkers, New York, home of DMX and Mary J. Blige.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m a filmmaker and author. My debut feature film, DETOUR, was just released nationwide, and my book, “No Alternative,” was recently published as a Paperback and eBook.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
“No Alternative” is my first novel. It is a coming-of-age story about teenagers in the grunge era of the early 90’s. The protagonist, Thomas Harrison, is determined to start his own alternative band, an obsession that blinds him to what’s either the mental collapse, or the eruption of musical genius, of his little sister, Bridget. Bridget boldly rejects her brother’s music, and the music of an entire generation of slackers, by taking on the persona of an X-rated gangsta’ rapper named Bri Da B.

…and what you’re working on right now?
I’m working on two books. One’s a memoir (of sorts) detailing my experience making an independent film in Hollywood – it’s part instructional, part anecdotal, with helpings of caution, acquired wisdom and humor. The other is a sci-fi thriller involving mind control, the Beat Generation…and maybe some Ninjutsu. My film-related activities involve post-production on my second feature, THE MIRROR, starring the Internet sensation known as “Taylor.” We are currently looking at a summer 2013 release date.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
“Animal Farm,” “Old Yeller,” and “Huckleberry Finn” are embedded in some of my fondest book-related memories. Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” is particularly special, as it was the first book I ever adapted into a movie. It was, in fact, the first movie I ever made. In 6th Grade, I asked if I could shoot a movie in lieu of writing a book report, and for better or worse, my teacher acquiesced to my request and the rest is history!

What are your three favorite books?
Questions like this are always so difficult to answer. It’s hard to say for sure, but three books that I often find myself going back to and that I admire greatly are: “Lolita,” by Vladimir Nabokov, “The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway, “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said,” by Philip K. Dick, and also, if I get to add one more, it would “The Great Gatsby,” because shouldn’t that book just be in any Top Three list by default?

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I don’t get to read as many books as I would like, which is unfortunate, but I’m currently reading “The Revolution Was Televised” by Alan Sepinwall, a terrific rundown on the way television has changed (for the better) over the past decade. It is also noteworthy for being the first self-published book to be reviewed by The New York Times, which is a terrific benchmark for indie authors.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
___ make sure to find a position in which I do not aggravate my herniated disc.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Re-read. Unless it’s Proust’s “In Search Of Lost Time,” because there’s simply not enough time…at least, not at the speed that I read.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Depends who recommends it to me! Just like anything else, I suppose!

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I’m extremely selective about the books I read, so I’m very likely to recommend them. I vet my reading material thoroughly before I dive in.

What do you look for in a good book?
I look for books that have protagonists with strong, subjective points-of-view; perspectives and views of the world that I can lose myself in and explore anew.

Why do you write?
As if there is any other choice?! In all seriousness, I find very little else as fully satisfying as the creative process. Writing a sentence, filming a scene, playing a drumbeat or a guitar lick; it is as freeing as a bird in the midst of flight, or that’s what I imagine it to feel like. It’s one of the few things that allows me to escape the world and enter another, and that is nothing short of thrilling.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
Chef.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Life experience and imagined life experience, and sometimes one informs the other.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
Writing has taught me to focus more on the details, the leaves not the tree; not that the tree isn’t important, but it’s the details that stick, that resonate, that float past your face, fall to the ground and crunch under your foot when you step on them.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
It’s been many years since I’ve embarked on a career in the arts, and I’ve had tremendous support from friends and family. However, and perhaps this is just me being hard on myself, I feel like it takes many years to earn the credential of a “professional” in the eyes of those around you. And perhaps that’s a good thing; it keeps you striving, it keeps you humble and hungry; it keeps you on your toes.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
That all writers are miserable. Okay, well, maybe that one’s true…

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The publishing industry is changing exponentially; for someone to succeed in the business, he or she must treat it as a business, which is the last thing I (and others, I’m sure) want to do! First, you need to write a good book. If that wasn’t hard enough, you then have to market it, and you must do so with as much conviction, fiery passion and steely resolve as you direct to your writing.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
I will defer here to a quote by Charles M. Schulz: “I never made a mistake in my life. I thought I did once, but I was wrong.”

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Yes, absolutely. I would very much love to adapt “No Alternative” into one of my next films.

How do you deal with your fan base?
Pepper spray.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
Whenever the movie LA BAMBA airs on television, I can’t turn it off – I must watch it until the very end.

Anything else we should know?
I’m kidding about the pepper spray.

 

 

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Book Review – Baby Names Made Easy by Amanda Elizabeth Barden

Baby Names Made Easy: The complete reverse-dictionary of baby names

Amanda Elizabeth Barden

Paperback

2009

Okay, so I got this book for purposes of writing and just because it was different.

The book is a really thorough book of baby names, meanings, related names, etc.  I loved that it even gave origin for related names in the additional list.  I’ve honestly never seen one where the names were this thorough.

The problem is that it was missing a lot of the things that I expect to see from baby naming books.  First of all, the beginning of the book, where you usually get baby naming tips was more a personal letter of why Amanda liked names so much and decided to make a book of her own, and the only tip was a suggestion of hers to throw convention out the window and instead of using sound-alike names (because people still name their kids Jerry, Terry and Larry; ahem), give them names with the same meaning, like Violet, Geneva and Oliver, which are all plants, tress and things that grow.

Honestly, this book is useless.  Maybe it’s interesting to see names that group together, but some of the several dozen categories have names that I wouldn’t saddle on a goldfish.  For instance, the mercy and forgiveness category – Bethesda, Carita, Charity, Clemencia, Clementine, Dara, Daya, Kai, Karuna, Maharene, Mercedes, Mercy, Mileta, Ruth, Sameh, Venetia and Venice for girls, Atif, Clement, Fordel, Kai, Kelmen, Miles, Milo, Rachman, Rafat, Rahim, Ransom, Rauf and Shafiq for boys.  That’s it, that’s the whole category.  Over half of which are so uncommon that my spellcheck is convinced I’ve spelled them wrong.   And really, does anyone know anyone who has sat around going “lets name all our kids after candy” (aside from the nicknames that Ashley Judd’s character’s kids had in ‘Where The Heart Is.’) who could use a book like this?

You can’t find a name you like and see similar names without looking through the back index and then going on to look them up in random places in the book.  So you can’t sit there and go “Okay, I want to call my son Will, what names could that be short for…?” without then going to eleven different pages to get meanings.

I’ll give her that she did her research.

But for usability, I’m giving this book a 2/5 and taking it back for something different.

Book Review–The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

Title: The Daylight War
Author: 
Peter V. Brett
Format:  
Electronic–.mobi
Published: 2013

It is probably very appropriate that this third book in the fantastic Demon Trilogy Cycle ends with a cliffhanger.  The entire experience of reading the book was something like falling off a cliff.  For the first few moments you’re soaring at top speed.  Then you realise that you are falling–plummeting, actually–and then ::SPLAT:: you hit the ground and are shattered.   Yep, that’s what reading The Daylight War is definitely like.

The first two books in this series are fully incredible in ways that are hard to express without sounding like someone on speed.  “They’re soooo good! Really! Awesome! You have to read them!”   Whenever people ask me for my recommendations on Epic Fantasy the third spot on the list has always been held by Peter V. Brett.    After this book it will be Peter V. Brett (with an asterisk).  This book is, I’m hoping, the asterisk of the series.  The “go ahead and read the series but you could probably skim book three or even skip it as long as you read the last chapter” novel that many good series have.

I’ve said elsewhere that this book feels like it happened because HBO and Fifty Shades of Gray have made erotica and erotic sublpots in Epic Fantasy a new trend.   I say that because the first two books (The Warded Man; The Desert Spear) are about travelling deep into this awesome world where demons rule the night and man’s only hope lies in defensive runes inked on fences and doors to keep out the monsters.    Brett’s world is compellingly real and the magic system that drives the tension is magnificent.

Then you get to this book.  It opens with a mother and her two children weaving baskets and joking about the son’s attendance at a gay orgy later in the day. The boy’s younger sister turns out to be Inevera, a minor character from the other two books and the primary character of much of The Daylight War.   Because we clearly know from earlier books where Inevera’s path takes her, the end result of her long backstory is not in question.   Brett decided to spice up the story with a lot of lesbians, nearly-naked beautiful girls and a male sex toy eunuch.   The other two plotlines focus on the romantic and sexual exploits of The Warded Man and his lieutenants Rojer and Leesha.

I don’ t have enough words to stress to you how very dull all of this gets, and quickly.   It gets especially bad when the Warded Man–the badass hero of the first two books–gets into a long infatuation with what is possibly the worst character in Fantasy since Jar Jar Binks.

It makes me sad that a book I waited so long for and that I actually pre-ordered turned into such a mess.    I’m giving it two bookworms but I’m afraid that maybe the second one is mostly for nostalgia’s sake.

2bookworms

Book Review: Skippyjon Jones In Mummy Trouble by Judy Schachner

Title: Skippyjon Jones In Mummy Trouble

Author/Illustrator: Judy Schachner

Format: Hardback

Written/Published: 2006

When I went looking for the Skippyjon Jones book that I remembered reading a few years back I was pleasantly surprised to find that Judy Schachner had done more books than just the one with my favorite Siamese Cat who thinks he’s a Chihuahua.  There were at least three other books there at the library and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few more out there.  I gladly picked up all the Skippyjon Jones books I can find, so please bear with me as I do review them all.  I will try to slip in a few more mature books in between this one and the others just to give you all a break but seriously these books are a treat!

I had no clue what to expect when reading this installment of Skippy’s adventures but I found myself giggling throughout the book causing my roommate to ask me what was going and then demanding to read the book after me because of my giggling.  It was so cute and adorable as Skippyjon dons on the makings of Skippito becomes a Chihuahua once more and goes down to Egypt where he meets the gang of Chimichangos once more.  They are no longer lacking in the frijoles but rather looking to rest in peas like the mummies.  This adventure is cute and adorable as Skippy faces the great Finx and then becomes a mummy himself!  It is cute and adorable and a must read if you liked the first Skippyjon Jones book!  I would give this one a 4 page rating again and a 5 for those who have read and enjoyed Skippyjon Jones.  I look forward to having these books in my collection one day and will cherish sharing them with others if given the chance!

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