Book Review: Dawn Of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw

Dawn Of Wonder

Jonathan Renshaw

Published 2014

Read in Kindle E-book format

I’m picky about books.  Extremely picky.   Sometimes I remind myself of a heroin addict, chasing the dragon and reminiscing about that last perfect high.

Dawn Of Wonder is the first book where I catch the dragon since Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song about, what’s it been?  Three or four years I think.

This is a fantasy book, and how I describe it will influence your decision to read it.   If I say it is about a young boy going to a magic school you will assume one thing.   If I tell you it’s about a young boy training to be an elite fighter, you’ll assume another.  If I tell you it’s about a street urchin fighting a crime boss for his very life…

I can’t describe the plot of the book because it is very much its own story.  It’s the kind of story where you say “I think I’ll give this a try for three paragraphs and then move on if it doesn’t work out” only to find yourself unable to put it down even for your doctor’s appointment.

I flat out love this book.  I love the way it made  me have hope.   I want to share that love and that hope with anyone and everyone who loves to read.   Please spend the paltry $4 this book costs on Amazon or add it to your Kindle Unlimited queue.   It’s worth at least a look.  If it’s not for you, set it aside.  (That’s what I told myself.  Two days later I came up for air and have hardly stopped raving the book’s praises since.)

Definitely 5 worms.

Book Review: The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Title: The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Format: Kindle E-book

Published: 2015

Sci-Fi books often frustrate me.

I am intrigued by ideas and the chance to escape into this wholly new time and place that the author teases in the blurb.   More often than not I get a little bit here and there about the story’s setting and then…snooze.  Another war.  Another cat and mouse game across the stars.  Another devious plot.  A little zero gravity sex.  It’s Tom Clancy in outer space.

That’s why this book was so exciting to me and why I can’t stop telling people that they really need to read it if they like thinking about interesting things.

Becky Chambers has invented a far future galaxy with multiple species living and working together.   She has then created a microcosm of that galaxy in the form of a wormhole-drilling spaceship and its varied crew.    The story in this book is the story of that ship and her crew and the year-long life changing voyage they take to fill a government contract on the far edge of the known space.

It’s a pleasant trip where we get to know the ship’s crew in all their varied forms while we experience spacer life alongside them.    There are stops here and there to pick up necessary parts or attend necessary functions and we get to experience life planetside and life in spaceports along the way.   It’s a fun journey with a satisfying conclusion.

There ARE shots fired and there are beasties to overcome but the action never swallows the story.

This is a 4-worm novel that is definitely worth a purchase.   4 bookworms

Why Review Books?

I originally wrote reviews for this page which appeared on Sundays.   I stopped for awhile for a number of reasons, but then Mandi asked me to come back and I thought about it.  Why do I review books?  What is that about?

Different reviewers will give you different reasons.  Some people review books because they just plain like talking about books.   Others want to get their names out there and into the publishing world by any means necessary.   There are those who want free books, and in the past having book review site was the way to do that.   Then there are those who want to bring books they love to a wider audience.

Why do I review books?   Not for free books…I think in the time I’ve done this I’ve gotten a grand total of 10 free books, all from indie authors.  There has never been a “hey, here’s the hottest novel of the summer three months early” moment.  Nor do I want there to be.    I don’t need for publishing to notice me via reviews.  My reviews have very little in common with the work I hope to publish.  It would be like getting someone to come to my restaurant by offering them a cold drink.

I do love talking about books.   I love telling people about books.   I love discussing books.

But most of all…I was a travel agent many moons ago and I’ve never gotten over the pleasure of giving someone a way to escape from the grit of their life.   I remember booking tickets–I booked thousands of tickets–and there was more often than not a joy there when people were planning to fly.    Going home to see mom, going to visit the baseball hall of fame, going home for Thanksgiving…no matter what it was it was a chance to get away.  And it was always several hundred dollars.

Books are cheap.  For a dollar or three you can take a few hours to a whole new place, an old familiar place, a scary place or a happy place.  You can meet interesting new people or hang out with old friends.

Even though books are cheap, I know from experience that there’s nothing worse than a bad trip.  And our free time is precious.  So even if the five dollars won’t crater your budget, I know  you don’t want to lose an afternoon hanging out in a bad neighbourhood.  And that’s why I review books.   I’m still a travel agent.  I’m just trying to book your ticket to the right place.   So when you see a review from me it’s going to be _about your trip_.   It’s not going to be about me getting my name in front of literary agents and it’s not going  to be about me getting free books.   It’s about what I’m doing for you.

That’s what I’m doing here, and that’s what I hope to be able to do here for a good long time.

Stay tuned for a review of the Best Sci Fi Book I’ve read this year and a little essay about the most disappointing Sci Fi book I’ve ever read in my life.   Those are coming up later today.



Reviewing Kindle Unlimited

kucropI’ve been away from blogging reviews for quite some time now, and I was arguing with myself for quite awhile about which book I should review.   Do folks care what I thought of Ann Rule’s Green River, Running Red ?  Maybe, but I’m sick of thinking about it, and have no desire to write 500 more words about Ann Rule’s insertion of herself into something that only involved her because it happened in her town.  Are folks really going to be interested in my opinions on a 5 year old thriller about Jack The Ripper?  Probably not.  Then I thought about all the Zentangle books I’d “read” and I was reminded of Kindle Unlimited.  I want to talk about that.   I want to talk about it because it’s not a book review.  It’s a review of literally thousands of books and how they are consumed and produced.

Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s version of “Netflix for books”.  There are other services available for smartphones and tablets; this is the only version available for the Kindle.   For about $10 a month you can read all you want from among the “Unlimited” selection.   (The fact that not every book on the site is included in the program might give you an idea of just how “Unlimited” it truly is[n’t].)    For someone like me, who reads about 4 books a week, this is a stellar deal.  It’s also a good deal for those of us with a Tsundoku problem.   In the 4 months I’ve participated in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited I’ve saved anywhere from $80 to $155 a month.  Instead of buying books to “read someday”–for that is the very definition of Tsundoko–I can add books to my “Kindle Unlimited To Read” wishlist.  This is especially helpful because most of the Amazon Daily Deals have been KU titles since the program started, and that was my biggest book expense.  “Hey, this is only $2.  I better get it before the price goes up!” has become “hey, I can read this when I’m in the mood, no matter what the list price is.”     For me that’s been the biggest value I’ve seen.


But there is a fly in this ointment and that’s what I really need to talk about.  You’ll see lots of people reviewing the economics of the program but I’m starting to wonder if anyone is calling Amazon out on the sheer abuse of the system that some “authors” are doing.

Anyone can self-publish to Amazon, and anyone who self-publishes can elect to include their book in KU.   Amazon’s royalty payout and ways of measuring who gets what are murky, but it’s become known that if people download and read your book to 10% you can make about $1.50.    So here’s what some nasty people are doing.   They’re uploading what are essentially no different in depth and breadth than Wikipedia articles on popular subjects–the ones I stumbled upon accidentally where about the art discipline Zentangle and the TV shows “Bletchley Circle” and “Downton Abbey”.    Since these things are short, you pretty much automatically get read to 10% whenever your file is downloaded.   And since the topics are popular, you’re going to get downloaded a lot more than someone’s lovingly-crafted dystopian YA fantasy.      So a lot of the books that look like books are, in fact, poor excuses for humanity masquerading as the written word.    This is a problem and it’s a huge drawback to using the Unlimited service.   I’m less willing to take a chance on unknown authors, and that’s a problem.   It’s a problem that Amazon needs to fix because the perception of value is eroding rapidly.  With so many of the curb-appeal titles failing to deliver, the Kindle Unlimited program is looking more and more like a pig in a poke.   Readers should be outraged.  True authors should be outraged.  And Amazon should pay more attention to what they offer for sale. Is this fraud? Not on Amazon’s part. But they’ve given fraudulent “authors” a platform that should be curtailed.

Book Review–A Room Full Of Bones By Elly Griffiths

A Room Full Of Bones, Elly Griffiths


Electronic / Kindle Edition

This was a Kindle Daily Deal on 31 October, 2013, because it was a “mystery with a halloween theme”.   That, coupled with the fact that Amazon keeps telling me to read the next book in the Ruth Galloway Mystery Series (A Dying Fall) because I liked Ann Cleeves Shetland Island Quartet, is what led me to pick this particular book as my Halloween read.

I have seldom regretted a book choice this much.

I strongly suspect that this book was written for those who’ve read previous entries in the Ruth Galloway series and decided that–for whatever mysterious reason–they like this world and these characters.   Because there really isn’t much mystery to speak of.   Most of the book is told in present tense from shifting points of view.  Ruth and her married-but-sometimes-lover, police DCI Harry Nelson, spend most of the book doing things like getting up and getting breakfast and driving places while thinking about how much they hate various things.

Really.  That’s the thrust of the book.  I can’t count the number of sections that went exactly like this:  “Ruth is hungry.  She makes herself a bowl of porridge and a piece of toast.  Ruth has always hated  porridge, really.  It’s hot and gluey and not at all like a real food.  But it is quick and filling and she has a lot to do today.”

Ruth Galloway is supposed to be an anthropologist specialising in bones (Temperance Brennan, anyone?)  but she seems to be more of a professional atheist specialising in mocking any and all religions.    Even that of her best friend Cathbad, a practicing Druid who used to be called Michael Malone, is unsafe from endless passages deriding religion as “rubbish”.

I don’t expect anyone to adhere to my religion, and I don’t feel hurt when my religion (Christianity) is derided.   After all, it’s outlasted stronger opinions than the negativity from places like Elly Griffiths’ keyboard.  So it’s not a case of Christian butthurt when I assure you the worst part of this book is the relentless anything-but-the-Bible-thumping that Griffiths engages in.   The reader can’t go three pages without being reminded that Ruth hates Christianity, that her parents were nutters of the Fundamentalist Variety and Ruth hates anything to do with any sort of God.   In fact, by reading this paragraph alone I estimate that you have digested at least 75 pages of the book’s total 353.

If these sins aren’t enough to persuade you, let me add that for mystery-novel lovers the book commits an even graver sin yet.   There is very little mystery to be had.   To be sure there’s a dead body in spooky circumstances in the opening chapter, and a subsequent death further down the pike.   But the book isn’t really about figuring out who did it or why.  It’s about Ruth, her baby by Nelson, Nelson and his wife and  the routines all these people go through in the wake of the first suspicious death.   Even the end discovery of “whodunit” is a non-event entirely, mentioned in passing while discussing some mundanity in the characters’ lives.

This is a smudged-dark romance between two bitter forty-year-olds disguised as a mystery.  It is an atheist polemic disguised as a mystery.  It is not a mystery.

I’m giving it two bookworms because I’m in a charitable mood.


Book Review–The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves (Book 2 of The Raven Cycle)

Maggie Stiefvater, 2013

Kindle Edition


I paid full price for this book without reading a single review.  That’s how much I enjoyed the first book in The Raven Cycle–The Raven Boys.


Had I read a review or two I may have waited awhile.

Before you get the wrong idea, allow me to explain.    The Raven Boys was the best sort of YA fantasy.  There was a real air of the mysterious, the offbeat, the unique.   The main characters through whose eyes the story was told were warm and engaging and charming.   I would have given anything to spend two thousand pages in Blue and Gansey’s world.

The second book, however, shares a strength and a weakness in its shift to a different central protagonist.   The Dream Thieves centers upon Ronan Lynch, who is a much darker character with a much more intense headspace.     The book is a richer experience on many levels as it pulls the reader into a beautifully-crafted dreamscape with an elegant mythology.   But it’s so much more relentless in the looming dark of it all.   Ronan is filled with anger beyond anger, a rage that envelopes the text and permeates it with a grim sense of directionlessness and powerlessness.

The Dream Thieves is a well-done book, and an interesting one.   It is not a light read by  any means.   It is a book I enjoyed because the story compelled me through to the end, yet I felt undeniable relief upon finishing it.   It was very much like a teeth cleaning in that “wow, I’m glad I did that but boy am I glad it’s over” way.

I’d give Raven Boys five bookworms, but I’m afraid we’ll have to stick with four for The Dream Thieves.  Any book that’s a relief to finish is a shade less than perfect in my view.

4 bookworms

Books Review: Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Published: 2011 (Divergent) 2012 (Insurgent)


The premise of this dystopian Young Adult trilogy is straightforward enough.  I’d even argue that it is perhaps too straightforward and therein lies its primary undoing.     The books are based on the idea that future Chicago is divided into clans (here known as “factions”) based SOLELY upon the individual’s personality trait.

The first book is the story of one Special Snowflake called Beatrice who leaves the Abnegation (eg. Quaker) faction of her birth for the more daring Dauntless.   She gives herself the cool, hip new name “Tris”, jumps off a seven-story building into a pit and then makes herself over from a quiet blonde in gray to the kind of person you instinctively avoid on the subway.    Most of the first book chronicles her transition from meek child to what is supposed to be an elite warrior but is really nothing more than a person with uncontrolled impulses toward danger.     Theoretically the Dauntless faction is the security and armed force for this fragmented new Chicago.   Reading the story, however, it’s obvious that Veronica Roth has absolutely no CLUE about how one trains a soldier.  For crying out loud, the bulk of my knowledge in the subject comes from GI Jane and George RR Martin novels and even I know that discipline is the primary skill instilled in any soldier.    Yet the Dauntless faction operates on the exact opposite of discipline, praising people for acting on their most erratic impulses.    That means that fully two thirds of the first book are a frustrating mess of watching punk teenagers get even MORE annoyingly idiotic.     The last third of the book shifts gears entirely, dumping us into the inevitable war between the factions that were originally designed to keep the peace.

I can go on and on about how terrible these two books are, about how incomplete their setup is, about how much they don’t make sense.   But instead I’m going to let you in on a bit of a secret.

These are Christian Fiction.   

In her acknowledgements of the first book,  Veronica Roth says “Thank you, God, for your Son and for blessing me beyond comprehension” .   In the second book she thanks God for “keeping His promises”.   Other than those two sentences there is little mention of religion or faith in the thousand-plus pages of story.   But it’s painfully clear that these are meant as a Christian Fiction-style response to The Hunger Games.     By the middle of Insurgent the messages about peace, sacrifice, character are coming fast and furious.   Roth said that she “[tries] to avoid preaching of any kind” yet these books  read like the author has had a steady diet of heavily-polemic Christian Fiction a la Janette Oke and Ted Dekker.

I’m a devout follower of Christ Jesus, and not ashamed of that fact.   Yet I also make no bones about my extreme dislike for most fiction marketed primarily to Christians.   It has been my experience over the past 40 years of being a reader that much of the fiction sold for Christian audiences is more concerned about re-making the philosophical points found in the Bible than it is about telling a story.    Because of that the stories are often weak, illogical, profoundly uninteresting.      What I find very curious about these two books is just how odd  it is to have the weaknesses so prevalent in Christian-targeted fiction and also to not have the overt “and then Jesus saved all of Chicago” moment.       I find myself wishing that Roth had either decided to write a better series or to make this one more open in its morality play.     As it stands, these first two books in this series are doubly-hollow and wholly illogical.

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